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!

speeding banner2

Advertisements

National Stop on Red Week

redlight cam pictureThe Federal Highway Safety Administration (FHWA) has selected the first week of August as “National Stop on Red Week”  This week is devoted to increasing public awareness of the dangers of red-light running through both education and enforcement activities.

This is an important tie-in to the start of the school season as well — children will be walking to school, along rural roads to bus pick up locations and crossing streets at intersections.  It is especially critical to reduce the frequency of red-light running to minimize collisions with pedestrians — especially school children.

To be as effective as possible, the FHWA encourages local communities to do their part in promoting this cause.  They’ve suggested ten specific ways to boost awareness of the issue that range from holding press conferences to setting up targeted enforcement areas.

The suggestion for employers to issue paycheck reminders (i.e. targeted messages to employees and their families) begs the larger question of how employers routinely educate their drivers (and office bound commuters, sales drivers, etc.) to obey traffic laws, signs and signals.

In the past, SafetyFirst has published Ten-Minute Training Topics on the dangers of red light running, and one of our very first Videos / Online training modules ever produced dealt with this issue, too.

FHWA provides additional information at this web site – http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/redlight/

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also has a page dedicated to red light running – http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/red-light-running/qanda#red-light-running

The Traffic Safety Coalition has produced a video to promote “National Stop on Red Week”:

Here are some more stunning videos of the aftermath of red light running:

Older drivers’ crash rates continue to drop

Older drivers’ crash rates continue to drop. (from http://www.iihs.org/iihs/sr/statusreport/article/49/1/1)

cropped-drowsy-driving.jpg

According to the latest Status Report (Vol. 49, No.1) issued today by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, today’s older drivers are both less likely to become involved in collisions and less likely to be killed or seriously injured if they do crash.

Primary factors include better health among that generation and more advanced safety features found in their cars.

This recent study reflects a shift that began in the mid-1990’s and suggests that the growing ranks of older drivers are not increasing road risk as much as previously projected.

From their report:

The latest analysis bolsters the evidence that drivers 70 and older have enjoyed bigger declines in fatal crash rates per licensed driver and per vehicle miles traveled than drivers ages 35-54, referred to in the study as middle-age drivers, since 1997. A new finding is that progress appears to have slowed in recent years, with the biggest improvements in older drivers’ fatal crash rates relative to middle-age drivers occurring between 1997 and 2007.

The crash outlook is improving for both older and younger drivers. During 1997-2012, fatal crash rates per licensed driver fell 42 percent for older drivers and 30 percent for middle-age ones. Looking at vehicle miles traveled, fatal crash involvement rates fell 39 percent for older drivers and 26 percent for middle-age ones from 1995 to 2008. A breakdown of the results for older drivers by age group shows that fatal crash involvement rates per licensed driver fell 36 percent for drivers ages 70-74, 46 percent for drivers 75-79 and 49 percent for drivers 80 and older during 1997-2012.

There were similar declines in older drivers’ involvement rates in injury crashes that weren’t fatal during the same periods.

“This should help ease fears that aging baby boomers are a safety threat. Even crashes among the oldest drivers have been on a downswing,” says Anne McCartt, the Institute’s senior vice president for research and a co-author of the study.

At the beginning of the study period, drivers 80 and older had by far the highest fatal crash rate, at nearly twice the rate of drivers ages 35-54 and 70-74. By 2012, the fatal crash involvement rate for drivers 80 and older improved to 1.4 times the rate of the other two age groups.

cropped-more-thanksgiving-traffic.jpg

Summary

As noted at this blog site and in many published articles about older drivers, calendar-year-age is not a very good measure of driver performance.  Regular check ups with the family doctor may be the only way to fairly evaluate physical and cognitive ability as drivers age.  Additioanlly, it is quite possible that some drivers at age 70 won’t perform as well as some at age 80, etc.

The IIHS wrapped its report with the following statement:

The fact that older drivers increased their average mileage during 1997-2012 may indicate that they are remaining physically and mentally comfortable with driving tasks. When older adults reduce their trips, there’s evidence that it is often because they are self-regulating their driving in response to impairments. IIHS research has found that the more memory and physical mobility problems people develop over time, the more limits they place on their driving (Click HERE for report).

Families need to work cooperatively with older drivers to determine the best outcomes possible.  Older drivers depend on mobility, but their abilities can change quickly.

Road Safety Is Everyone’s Responsibility.

cropped-traffic-scene.jpg

How Fast is Too Fast?

cropped-thanksgiving-traffic.jpgThis past Fall, Texas opened a new toll road that parallels a slow road thru a rural area.  Drivers would have a choice — pay a premium to drive 85 MPH legally, or drive the old road through small towns and speed traps.  What made matters seemingly worse was that the deal between the state and the operator of the toll road (a private vendor) was somehow incentivized to push the speed limit as high as possible.

On the first night of public operation, the toll road suffered it’s first fatal crash (http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/12/15112206-texas-highway-with-nations-fastest-speed-limit-records-first-fatal-crash?lite)

Now, a lawmaker in Nevada wants to push the maximum limit to 85 MPH in his state, too (http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/04/02/nevada-bill-would-allow-85-mph-speed-limit-on-state-highways/)

I drive out on the Interstate 80 quite often and the maximum speed limit there is 75 [mph],” says Sen. Don Gustavson, the bill’s sponsor. “Most people do faster than that, they do 80 to 85. If we increase the speed limit to 85, these people that are already doing that speed will be doing so legally.

Of course, there’s always a business angle to exploit when it comes to speeding:

Exotic car rental companies in Las Vegas that rent out powerful automobiles like Lamborghinis and Corvettes could be the beneficiaries of faster highways throughout the state.  “For our customers, to do that 10 mph more and do the 85 mph, it’s a plus for them,” Ted Stevens, who owns Fantasy Car Rentals, told FoxNews.com. “They’re going to be in a nice car and the cars are safe enough with the airbags and suspension in the rides and the safety features in most cars.”

Is speeding really a serious problem?  

Consider these facts from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

  • Nearly a third of all motor vehicle fatalities, occurred in speed-related crashes
  • In a high-speed crash, a passenger vehicle is subjected to forces so severe that the vehicle structure cannot withstand the force of the crash and maintain survival space in the occupant compartment. Likewise, as crash speeds get very high, restraint systems such as airbags and safety belts cannot keep the forces on occupants below severe injury levels.
  • Speed has a major impact on the number of crashes and injury severity. It influences the risk of crashes and crash injuries in three basic ways:
    • It increases the distance a vehicle travels from the time a driver detects an emergency to the time the driver reacts.
    • It increases the distance needed to stop a vehicle once the driver starts to brake.
    • It increases the crash energy exponentially. For example, when impact speed increases from 40 to 60 mph (a 50 percent increase), the energy that needs to be managed increases by 125 percent.

cropped-cars-rushing.jpgThe affects of eliminating the national speed limit of 55 MPH has been studied repeatedly.  As late as 2009, the long-term effects of the 1995 repeal of the national speed limit 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 of that study (the most recent of its type) estimated that 12,545 deaths were attributed to increases in speed limits across the U.S. between 1995 and 2005.

Summary

Speeding, whether driving too fast for conditions, or just plain high velocity on a clear, sunny day raise your risks of both a collision and of not surviving it.  Telematics units and GPS systems point out cases of repeated speeding events or sheer maximum speed, and this is a disturbing trend since an accident is waiting to happen.  Drivers need to slow Coaching Tips Titledown, plan adequate time for their trip and be prepared to take the full amount of time to drive between cities at an appropriate pace.

SafetyFirst provides a safety hotline service, mvr profiling, and many more driver safety programs to help fleets of all sorts to monitor and report on individual driver performance.  We work with more than 3,800 active clients.  Let us know how we can help your fleet, too.

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).