Searching for answers on distraction

dis-enf-10-ever-officials_lo_res-post-72-enThe Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently published a Status Update titled “Searching for answers on distraction.”

This Status Update sheds new light on our evolving understanding of distracted driving, it’s contributing factors and compounding factors.

The article begins with a clear admonition followed by the conclusion of this most recent study:

Using a cellphone while driving is risky and can lead to crashes. Making or taking calls, texting, or interacting with an electronic device in any way can take your eyes off the road at a critical moment…

…A new study by IIHS in partnership with Virginia Tech helps clarify the risk of cellphone use behind the wheel and offers insight into other distracting things drivers do when they aren’t using cellphones. The research points to the need for a broader strategy to deal with the ways that drivers can be distracted.

It seems that as soon as this study and it’s summaries were released, critics came shouting that the study undermines the need to be vigilant in discouraging cell phone use of any type. However, the article makes it plainly clear that cell use isn’t the only issue we need to consider (yes, avoid cells, but no, don’t myopically focus on cells as the sole problem source)

Here’s the rub.  While cell use has skyrocketed, during the same time period, overall crash rates have plummeted.

drop in crashes over time

What does that mean?  From the study:

This doesn’t mean phone use behind the wheel is harmless. Numerous experimental studies have shown that talking on a cellphone reduces a driver’s reaction time, potentially increasing crash risk. Cellphone use also affects how drivers scan and process information from the roadway. The cognitive distractions associated with cellphone use can lead to so-called inattention blindness in which drivers fail to comprehend or process information from objects in the road even if they are looking at them. Studies also have found negative effects of texting on driving performance. The research is still unfolding, but there is a basic conundrum: Why is a distracting behavior not increasing crash rates?

The studies suggest a link between compounding behaviors and crash risk – when distracted in different ways or by more than one type of distraction, crash risk seems to go up.  So “multitasking” while driving = you’re not really driving, you’re busy being productive at your day job instead. Plus, some other behaviors seem to be even more problematic than talking on your phone.

Cell Phone Distraction VTTI IIHS 2014

This simply means we need to work at getting drivers to become more vigilant in their driving duties regardless of the nature or source of their distraction — indeed, put down the phone, but also stop the other distractions, too!

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Left Lane Hog?

Speeding is always a bad idea since higher speeds:

  1. rob drivers of reaction time
  2. increase stopping distance
  3. reduce driver’s ability to steer or control the vehicle due to the increased energy contained in the moving vehicle
  4. greatly increase the risk of crashes producing injuries or fatalities during inclement weather because of road conditions, poorer visibility, etc.
  5. violate traffic law in most cases (depending on conditions, posted limits, etc.)

blog rainy traffic day 1A recent NHTSA study (click HERE) confirms that speeding contributes to about a third of all crashes each year.

Having said all of that (and meaning it) we wanted to take a moment to talk about driving too slowly.

Yes, too slowly.

Almost all states have laws against impeding traffic on multi-lane highways (and some restrict left lane use for only passing).  This is one of the rules of the road covered in driver manuals, but often misinterpreted on the highway once we’ve forgotten everything we learned in high school driver’s ed.

PoliceNaturally, we’re NOT making a defense of drivers who speed in the left lane; however, we are suggesting that it’s not another driver’s right or obligation to block the passing lane or drive precisely at the speed limit in the left lane with the purpose or intent of impeding traffic.

While the aggressive speeder may be in the wrong, we’ve often heard the cliche that two wrongs don’t make a right!  Use the left lane appropriately and when safe to move over towards the right, allow the left lane for others to pass.

A much longer article on this issue was recently posted on July 9th — http://www.vox.com/2014/6/16/5804590/why-you-shouldnt-drive-slowly-in-the-left-lane

This article includes links to tables and maps showing state-by-state rules and laws governing this particular issue:

New NHTSA Study

drowsy drivingWhen dealing with a ‘ton of data’ about crashes, causes, contributing factors, costs and such, it can take several years to fully value and understand what it all means.  Why?

  1. First, there’s a lot to analyze.  
  2. Second, not all final crash costs are known until the bulk of medical treatments have been completed and reported.  
  3. Third, data about the source data becomes available during the analysis process (we gain insights as the analysis proceeds — sometimes causing us to reverse and re-examine details).

With these points in mind, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a new study of “The Economic and Societal Impact Of Motor Vehicle Crashes” that occurred during 2010.

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We wanted to share some select quotes from the study to highlight several key findings.

In 2010, there were 32,999 people killed, 3.9 million were injured, and 24 million vehicles were damaged in motor vehicle crashes in the United States. The economic costs of these crashes totaled $277 billion. Included in these losses are lost productivity, medical costs, legal and court costs, emergency service costs (EMS), insurance administration costs, congestion costs, property damage, and workplace losses. The $277 billion cost of motor vehicle crashes represents the equivalent of nearly $897 for each of the 308.7 million people living in the United States, and 1.9 percent of the $14.96 trillion real U.S. Gross Domestic Product for 2010. These figures include both police-reported and unreported crashes. When quality of life valuations are considered, the total value of societal harm from motor vehicle crashes in 2010 was $871 billion. Lost market and household productivity accounted for $93 billion of the total $277 billion economic costs, while property damage accounted for $76 billion. Medical expenses totaled $35 billion. Congestion caused by crashes, including travel delay, excess fuel consumption, greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants accounted for $28 billion. Each fatality resulted in an average discounted lifetime cost of $1.4 million. Public revenues paid for roughly 9 percent of all motor vehicle crash costs, costing tax payers $24 billion in 2010, the equivalent of over $200 in added taxes for every household in the United States.

Clearly, traffic crashes cost a lot of money!

Key contributing factors to the crash data in 2010 included:

  • Impaired (drunk) driving
  • Speed
  • Distraction
  • Seat belts saved many, but some (3,350 people) perished for failing to use their restraints properly/consistently

It is staggering to realize that during 2010, there were more than 3.9 million people injured in 13.6 million motor vehicle crashes (including about 33,000 fatalities).  Alcohol-involved crashes accounted for about 21 percent of all crash costs and a third of all road deaths.

Speed-related crashes (where at least one driver was exceeding the posted limit OR driving too fast for conditions) were connected to 10,536 fatalities (another third of the total for the year).

So, in hindsight, if all drivers had:

  1. worn their seatbelts properly,
  2. avoided driving while impaired and
  3. followed the speed limit (or driven with regard to local conditions)

then, about two-thirds of all road deaths could have been avoided (22,000 lives saved).

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The opening paragraph of the study that deals with speeding says a lot in a few words:

Excess speed can contribute to both the frequency and severity of motor vehicle crashes. At higher speeds, additional time is required to stop a vehicle and more distance is traveled before corrective maneuvers can be implemented. Speeding reduces a driver’s ability to react to emergencies created by driver inattention; by unsafe maneuvers of other vehicles; by roadway hazards; by vehicle system failures (such as tire blowouts); or by hazardous weather conditions. The fact that a vehicle was exceeding the speed limit does not necessarily mean that this was the cause of the crash, but the probability of avoiding the crash would likely be greater had the driver or drivers been traveling at slower speeds. A speed-related crash is defined as any crash in which the police indicate that one or more drivers involved was exceeding the posted speed limit, driving too fast for conditions, driving at a speed greater than reasonable or prudent, exceeding a special speed limit or zone, or racing.

In short, speeding robs you of needed reaction time – you need to make judgments faster and have less room to maneuver in an emergency.  Each of us can choose to drive slower and buy time to react and respond, but we’re often in a ‘hurry’ to get to our destination, and choose to increase or risk.

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The study reminded us of the urgent need for ALL drivers of cars, trucks, buses to properly use restraints such as seatbelts whenever driving.  Consider these statistics:

When properly fastened, seat belts provide significant protection to vehicle occupants involved in a crash. The simple act of buckling a seat belt can improve an occupant’s chance of surviving a potentially fatal crash by from 44 to 73 percent, depending on the type of vehicle and seating position involved. They are also highly effective against serious nonfatal injuries. Belts reduce the chance of receiving an MAIS 2-5 injury (moderate to critical) by 49 to 78 percent.

MirrorPoster_72dpiThe report did not have kind words for the use of motorcycles (however, I could speculate that the authors were concerned for the welfare of riders in delivering their findings in a stark way):

Motorcycles are the most hazardous form of motor vehicle transportation. The lack of external protection provided by vehicle structure, the lack of internal protection provided by seat belts and air bags, their speed capability, the propensity for riders to become airborne through ejection, and the relative instability inherent with riding a two-wheeled vehicle all contribute to making the motorcycle the most risky passenger vehicle. In 2010, 4,518 motorcyclists were killed and 96,000 were injured in police-reported crashes on our Nation’s roadways. This represents 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 3 percent of all police-reported injuries. Motorcycles accounted for only 0.6 percent of all vehicle miles traveled in 2010. Per vehicle mile traveled in 2010, a motorcyclist was about 30 times more likely than a passenger car occupant to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and 5 times more likely to be injured. The difference in these proportions reflects the more severe injury profile that results from motorcycle crashes. Over the past several decades motorcycle fatalities and injuries have generally increased relative to those in other vehicle types.

Other observations included a good reminder that intersections continue to be a prime location for crashes since there are so many ways that vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists can interact with each other during turns or even while transiting the intersection (straight across).

SUMMARY

While the data summarizes activity from 2010, we can learn a lot about behavior, choices and safety results.  There’s never an inappropriate time to share safety messages with drivers about obeying traffic laws, using seatbelts and avoiding risk taking (i.e. driving while impaired, distracted driving, etc.)

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Intersections and Crash Risk

sideswipe illustration FHWADriving is, arguably, the most complex task that most people handle on a daily basis.  We interact with other vehicles, struggling to identify all potential hazards in front, to the side, and behind us.

In a idealized, fantasy world, we’d be the only vehicle and driver on the road, but that’s just not reality.

One of the most challenging interactions on the road is dealing with intersections.  These crossroads provide multiple points of conflict with cyclists, pedestrians and other vehicles. Whether going straight, turning right or left, we have to follow the rules and watch out for others who may not follow the rules.  Signals and signs help, but oddly intersecting roads, multiple driveways and alleys can combine to make a very dangerous environment where drivers could become confused (even if they’re not texting and driving).

SafetyZone-Safety GoalThis month’s Ten-Minute Training Topic deals with “Avoiding Intersection Crashes” and includes:

  • Driver Handouts
  • Slide shows
  • Mini-poster to reinforce key points
  • Manager’s supplemental report with talking points, news articles and insights into policy development

One of the trendy recommendations affecting road design is to move away from traditional intersections towards modern roundabouts.  Here are two videos about the benefits of roundabouts:

AND

Traffic safety has to begin within each and every driver – you and me.  Only when we personalize the need to be safe will we talk to our family and friends about “stepping up” to drive consistently according to the rules of the road.

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“Cross This Way”

New York City has embraced a traffic safety plan called “Vision Zero”.  This program aims to materially improve safety results through targeted education and enforcement.  From their website (click HERE):

…approximately 4,000 New Yorkers are seriously injured and more than 250 are killed each year in traffic crashes. Being struck by a vehicle is the leading cause of injury-related death for children under 14, and the second leading cause for seniors. On average, vehicles seriously injure or kill a New Yorker every two hours.

This status quo is unacceptable. The City of New York must no longer regard traffic crashes as mere “accidents,” but rather as preventable incidents that can be systematically addressed. No level of fatality on city streets is inevitable or acceptable. This Vision Zero Action Plan is the City’s foundation for ending traffic deaths and injuries on our streets.

One of the tools introduced to help school children improve their knowledge of how to cross streets safely is a video presentation with a catchy tune and lyrics that emphasize good techniques.  Here’s the video:
The Vision Zero web page wisely states; “There is no silver bullet that will end traffic fatalities. But previous successes that have combined the efforts of people, their governments and private industries to save lives are not difficult to find.”  We agree.

Traffic safety (pedestrians, cars, trucks, buses, cyclists, et.al.) all share a responsibility to interact with each other in a respectful and responsible manner.  We each have a role to play in preventing collisions by obeying rules and learning how to better practice safe techniques.

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Please don’t become a “textpert”

A colleague sent me a link to an odd, funny and “catchy” video (embedded below) that features a pair of rappers who are trying to make a point to “the younger generation” of drivers:

…you may think that you’re an expert at texting while driving (a “textpert”), but you’re kidding yourself that your actions are somehow safe…

Take three minutes to watch the video below.  For some of us it may appear “silly” but if educational efforts make any impact on changing behavior in our teen and young adult drivers, I’m all for it.

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