The Proverbial “Low Hanging Fruit” of Driver & Traffic Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a “Status Report” titled “Low-Hanging Fruit”. 

Its principal topic is summed up nicely in the opening paragraph;

“Oftentimes saving a life on the road is as basic as getting people to slow down, buckle up, or don a helmet. Tried and true countermeasures like these usually don’t grab headlines, but if they were more widely propagated across the nation they would yield an immediate reduction in motor vehicle crash deaths.”

The report provides a wealth of details, statistics and recommendations that make a lot of sense (or should) for most traffic safety professionals – safety results come from the mundane stuff of life being practiced consistently and crashes happen when people take short cuts on the basics.

I don’t think IIHS or any other safety professional is turning a blind eye to other blatant safety issues like electronic distractions (i.e. “driving while in-text-icated”, et.al.) but they realize that we can save lives NOW if we focus on the right actions which can be enacted and enforced in a sustainable fashion.

What’s on their list?  Here are some direct quotes from their report:

  1. Enact primary belt laws: Using safety belts is the single most effective way to reduce deaths and injuries in crashes. Safety belts saved 12,713 lives in 2009, NHTSA  estimates. If all passenger vehicle occupants 5 and older involved in fatal crashes had been restrained, an additional 3,688 lives could have been spared. Institute research has shown that switching from a secondary to a primary law reduces passenger vehicle driver deaths by 7 percent. If all states with secondary laws upgraded to primary laws, an additional 284 lives would have been saved in 2009. Another way to boost belt use is to increase fines for belt law violations. A recent NHTSA-sponsored study found that increasing fines from the national median of $25 to $60 results in gains of 3 to 4 percentage points in belt use. Raising fines to $100 increases belt use even more (see Status Report,March 1, 2011).
  2. Mandate helmets for all riders: Helmets saved the lives of 1,483 motorcyclists in 2009, NHTSA estimates. If all motorcyclists had worn them, an additional 732 lives could have been saved. Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle drivers and 41 percent effective for motorcycle passengers. Nearly all motorcyclists wear helmets in states with universal helmet laws covering riders of all ages, but only about half do when states either don’t have a law or the rules only apply to some riders.
  3. Toughen teen driver laws: Teenage drivers have the highest crash risk per mile traveled, compared with drivers in other age groups. One proven way to reduce this risk is through graduated licensing laws that phase in driving by young beginners as they mature and develop skills. States with these systems have reduced teen crashes 10-30 percent.
  4. Lower speed limits: Speeding was a factor in 31 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths during 2009, and 10,591 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes. Lowering speed limits has been proven to pay big dividends. Raising them has the opposite effect (see Status Report, Nov. 22, 2003). Congress in 1995 repealed the national maximum speed limit of 55 mph, allowing states to set their own limits. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health found a 3 percent increase in road fatalities attributable to higher speed limits on all road types, with the highest increase of 9 percent on rural interstates. The authors estimated that 12,545 deaths were attributed to increases in speed limits across theU.S. between 1995 and 2005.
  5. Use automated enforcement: A proven way to curb speeding and red light running is to use cameras to enforce traffic laws. The most common use in theU.S. is at intersections to record red light violations. Red light running killed an estimated 676 people and injured an estimated 130,000 in 2009.
  6. Conduct sobriety checkpoints: The proportion of fatally injured drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent has remained about a third since 1994 after declining from nearly half during 1982. The Institute estimates that 7,440 deaths would have been prevented in 2009 if all drivers had BACs below 0.08 percent. Sobriety checkpoints help to deter alcohol-impaired driving and catch violators. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that crashes thought to involve alcohol drop by about 20 percent when well-publicized checkpoints are conducted.
  7. Build roundabouts: Used in place of stop signs and traffic signals, these circular intersections can significantly improve traffic flow and safety. Where roundabouts have been installed, crashes have fallen about 40 percent, and injury-related crashes have slid about 80 percent. Some of the most common types of intersection crashes are right-angle, left-turn, and head-on collisions. These can be severe because vehicles may be traveling at high speeds. Roundabouts essentially eliminate potentially serious crashes because vehicles travel in the same direction and at much slower speeds. Keeping vehicles moving also reduces travel delays, fuel consumption, and air pollution (see Status Report,June 9, 2008).

What do you think?  Where should government, safety professionals, fleet managers, employers, and everyday motorists be focusing their effort to reduce crashes?  Feel free to leave a comment here, or join the discussion on Linked In (“SafetyFirst Client Networking” discussion group).

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