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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Upfits Designed with Ergonomics in Mind

Ford E 150 vanWork Truck magazine recently ran a great article titled; “Upfits Designed with Ergonomics in Mind.” It addresses common Worker Compensation injuries that may occur around work trucks — specifically from lifting and awkward movements leading to sprains, strains and chronic pain.

The article provides some detailed facts to provide context and highlight the seriousness of these injuries:

The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) estimates that work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the U.S. account for more than 600,000 injuries and illnesses, about 34 percent of all lost workdays reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). MSDs are especially prevalent in the transportation and material moving sector, with the third-highest incident rate among all industries in 2011, according to the BLS. And, each reported MSD incident can be expensive to employers, accounting for one out of every $3 spent on workers’ compensation, according to OSHA, which estimates that employers spend as much as $20 billion per year in direct costs for MSD-related workers’ compensation, and up to five times that much for indirect costs, such as those associated with hiring and training replacement workers.

The article provides six key areas where safety teams can get started with engineering changes that reduce the risks of injury:

  1. Recessed Bulkheads/ Partitions
  2. In-Cab Work Stations
  3. Drop-Down Ladder Racks
  4. Adding Steps and Handles
  5. Using Liftgates
  6. Roll Out Cargo Beds

StepVANSEach area can reduce stress, and make lifting and reaching easier on the job.

The print edition of the magazine includes many photographs to provide contextual insight on how these devices work and would help your mobile workforce.

www.worktruckonline.com

 

Building the Ideal Fleet Assessment Report

NHTSA 2012 OverviewOne of the vital tools used in the insurance world is the initial risk assessment report.  This report helps underwriters get a very clear understanding of the activities of a given company, and how that management team handles safety processes to avoid injuries or physical damage.

An assessment report will typically cover all areas of concern depending on the nature of the business being insured:

  • A report for a warehouse operation may focus mainly on the potential for fires, the combustible nature of goods being stored, the controls to prevent fires and the processes in place to provide early/prompt alarm if a fire were to happen.
  • A report for a manufacturing operation may focus on how equipment is safeguarded to prevent injuries, how vapors or fumes are ventilated to prevent explosions or work-related illness by chemical exposure.

When dealing with companies which operate fleets of cars, vans, trucks and/or heavy duty vehicles there are a lot of issues to consider – especially since the drivers and vehicles will be operated out of sight of supervisors who could offer coaching and helpful correction when safety complacency develops or bad habits might be formed.

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I asked peers to give me their perspective on creating the ideal fleet survey report, and I received very gracious and thoughtful responses.  Here are several that characterize the general consensus:

The two most important attributes covered in a fleet Loss Control report would be 1) evaluating the proactiveness of Management 2) evaluating the implementation of an effective fleet safety program.  I feel there are many sub elements that fall under these two categories, but these are the two most important attributes to evaluate.

A solid loss control report must cover several key data points like:  qualifications of the safety director (his/her support, experience, authority); a robust driver qualification process with uniform standards; driver education processes; a program to address the readiness of the vehicles; a review of past losses to identify patterns or trends.

A thorough evaluation of a fleet operation could cover many areas depending on the nature of the business. For instance, a trucking company should be in compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations at a minimum; however, a company with mostly salesperson’s cars or executives may need to focus more closely on distracted driving prevention, weekend use, and other factors like passenger policies or permissive personal use.

Considering fleets can have a wide range of exposures to loss, it can be helpful to begin by identifying the nature of the cargo most commonly carried – the attributes of these loads (hazardous chemicals versus boxes of oatmeal) will determine the relative risks in the event of a collision and the need to ramp up management’s vigilance over driver qualification, training and monitoring.

We’ve learned that most crashes happen as a direct result of driver choices, attitudes and habits.  Whether the driver is impaired, drowsy, or just has the flu, can directly lead to a crash from inattention.  In long haul fleets, drivers may be away from their families for two weeks or more – this can lead to additional stress when they call home to find out the roof is leaking again or the oven is broken, etc.  Having an assistance plan in place can help these drivers cope and stay focused on their driving instead of what is simply out of their control at the moment.  Distraction comes in many forms – not just cell phones – and daydreaming can become deadly in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s all about management attitude, leadership, setting and enforcing policies.

Does the account have the following policies (long checklist including cell phone, seatbelt, incentives for crash free driving, permissive use drivers, passengers, DUI forbidden, etc)

How does the account on-board new hires?  Do they have a formal training program, and if so, how many hours in classroom and how many hours behind the wheel?  If they’re not committed to training, they’re likely to have more crashes than the average fleet.

In the past, SafetyFirst has put together example checklists for fleet surveys, and we’ve spoken extensively about the ability to use the ANSI Z15 standard as a self-audit tool for enhancing existing fleet safety programs.  There’s no short answer to evaluating a fleet operation whether it’s five cars or five hundred tractor trailers.  Still, there are many areas that professionals can agree are important to painting a detailed picture for underwriters (and to help offer meaningful guidance to policyholders based on the evaluation process).

MirrorPoster_72dpiI’d suggest the following outline for an example loss control evaluation of a regulated fleet.  It’s NOT intended to be completely comprehensive since every fleet is unique, and we could easily double the length of the outline and still miss some details like asking whether drivers stop periodically to check for cargo shifting, if the policyholder has a formal inspection program to assure that all first aid kits and fire extinguishers are fully stocked/charged, etc. It’s not that these details are “unimportant”, but there’s an upper limit on the patience of a policyholder to remain calm under a relentless assault of questions.

Take a look and offer some thoughts – is this getting a good “big picture” view of most fleet operations?  Is there something in your experience that we’ve missed that should be considered “elemental” and included?  Have we suggested items that you think are trivial?

 

Loss Control Report
Company name: DOT number:
Location:
Contacts: Phone/email:

Overview of Operation

  • Description of company focus, operations, scope of service territory, multiple locations/terminals?
  • Workforce stats
    • Number of drivers (Full time vs. Part time (if any))
    • Balance/percentage of OO vs Company drivers
  • Equipment types operated (reefers, tanks, dry van, tautliners, etc.)
  • Describe commodities hauled – typical versus occasional (define occasional)
    • Are there forbidden cargo types (describe) how monitored?
    • Hazardous Materials and Oversized loads being hauled? If so, how much/how often
    • (include report supplement)

General Management Controls, Policies/Procedures

  • Safety Director
    • Chain of command (where does safety fit in)
    • Authority of safety to make and implement recommendations
    • Qualifications (ongoing professional development)?
    • Networking?
  • smc 1Any examples of recent changes made to improve safety processes?
  • Who authors and revises policy/handbooks, etc.
    • Revision schedule
    • Benchmarking of best practices by peer group?
  • General controls
    • How are control policies memorialized?
    • How are control policies communicated?
    • How are control policies acknowledged by drivers/operators?
    • How are control policies enforced?
    • Provide an overview description of each of following:
      • Cell Phone/Texting/Distraction
      • Fatigue/HOSMotor Carriers Guide to Improving
      • Wellness/EAP
      • Substance abuse
      • Family support
      • Communications program
        • Methods (newsletter, emails, surveys)
      • Education Program (describe each, vendor used, frequency, etc.)
        • New hire
        • Ongoing
        • Post Crash
        • Other?
      • Incentives/Bonus?
    • Standing Safety Team/Committee?
    • Post Crash Review Processes
      • (team, individual?)
      • Preventability (standard used?) versus at-fault

Regulatory Concerns (CSA)

  • Some parallels worth examiningWho monitors SMS/BASICs (satisfied with current score?)
  • Last login within past 30, 60, 90 days?
  • Describe audit history
  • Any notice letters within past 24 months?
  • Familiar with and using Safety Cycles for BASICs?

Asset Controls

  • Describe approach to maintenance – in house, OO, contracted, etc
    • Describe controls over maintenance operation – how does management know it’s getting done
    • Annual FHWA inspection process (If in-house Annual Inspections are being completed are the mechanics properly trained?)
    • Provide garage/mechanical/fuel/body shop/warranty services to others? (if so, attach supplemental report)
  • DVIR processes used – who maintains and purges records?
  • Participate in CVSA programs?
  • Equipment replacement program (owned assets)
  • Any example of corporate changes that affect assets, specifications, retention, etc.?

Featured Image -- 1451Drivers

  • Recruiting
    • Internal/external team
    • Sourcing types
    • Job descriptions
    • Stated Minimum-qualifications (what are they, how enforced?)
    • Are exceptions granted (if so, under what circumstances and sign-offs?)
    • Recycle rejected candidates? Black box candidates?
  • Qualification/Onboarding
    • CoachingIn-person interview?
    • Application form used is detailed?
      • Online capabilities?
    • Pre-hire MVR review? FMCSA PSP Program Review?
    • Describe orientation process; follow up interviews/surveys, etc.
    • Mandatory initial training? (topics, duration, etc.)
  • Renewables program (DQF Maintenance)
    • Who handled DQF processes – methods, practices, self audit?
    • Describe annual performance review process
    • COVR reconciliation
      • MVR Criteria used for acceptable vs probation vs suspension
      • Any legal assistance program to help drivers fight tickets?
    • Disciplinary Process for Company Drivers? (what triggers? How enforced?)
    • What could cause company to break a contract with OO?
  • Communication Program?
  • Controlled substance program overview
    • Process for positive tests
    • EAP offered or termination on positives?

Pre-Loss Safety Practices

  • Asset-based tech
    • Camera-in-cabin? (who sees videos, retention period, coaching process, documentation?)
    • GPS for safety issues (type of alerts, thresholds for alerts, who monitors alerts, when do they intervene with driver, how do they coach, retraining, documentation of corrective actions? Retention of records period?)
  • HOS Enforcement and Monitoring Processes
    • Electronic Logging Devices or EOBR used?
    • Toll Pass program?
    • Log book reconciliation with tolls, etc.
  • Driver (Admin) based programs
    • Pyramid 2011 for blogHow’s My Driving?
    • MVR Monitoring (pull program, etc.)
    • Incentive program?

Post-Loss Processes

  • Define “crash event” (anything that changes the material appearance of the vehicle, or something else?)
  • Define “Major Event” as opposed to “DOT Recordable” (if different)
  • Familiar with Claim Unit processes and expectations?
  • Education of all drivers on what to do at the scene of an accident? (frequency, content, vendor-based?)
  • Post-crash documentation kits (pouch? Camera?)
  • Crisis Response Team?
    • Who investigates accident scenes? Qualifications?
    • Lawyer hotline (for driver? For management team?)
    • PR-crisis management training or firm on retainer?
  • DOT Crash Register for past three years
  • Incident rate per million miles
  • Trending and pattern analysis?
  • Recap of recent “Major” crashes, lessons learned, communication to drivers about incident?

Additional Reading:

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Commercial Vehicle Insurance

SafetyFirstAn interesting article titled “Insurance: You Can’t Avoid Risk” appears in the September 2014 issue of FleetOwner.

This article caught my attention at the second paragraph:

Crashes involving trucks and the resulting insurance claims can grab quite a chunk from the bottom line of any motor carrier [or any company operating a fleet of vehicles – SF]. According to data compiled several years ago by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the cost of a crash involving one Class 8 tractor pulling a single 53-ft. trailer runs to $172,292.  If just one person gets injured in such a crash, the average cost balloons to $334,892.  And if a fatality occurs in such a crash, the average cost skyrockets to over $7.6 million.

The article also comments that insurance costs to cover premiums and out of pocket costs can be as much as 4% of the total cost of operation (TCO).

PoliceFleets looking to reduce their costs can ask for discounts and creative payment plans, but in order to materially reduce insurance expense, the only long-term solution is to earnestly work to reduce their risk of loss through aggressive and tailored crash-avoidance strategies.

Naturally, we can’t control how the general public drives on any given day, but as transportation safety professionals, fleet management teams can work with their commercial drivers, insurers, and current safety vendors to increase results.

Ideas to consider:

  1. Smash through the most common barrier to results: complacency. Many fleet teams think they’ve done all that they can and sometimes it can be hard to re-evaluate and re-tool programs to get better results.  “We’ve always done it this way” and “don’t fix what isn’t broken” are dangerous phrases if you’re sincere about enhancing risk results. It’s easy to assume that everything is working well and focus on trying “new stuff” just because it’s new and trendy, but sometimes it’s the underlying (un-sexy) tasks that are slipping through the cracks.  Be honest in evaluating what’s working and what could work better.
  2. Increase vigilance and safety awareness – just as consciously scanning the road ahead for possible hazards and motorists who may cut off trucks is critical to safe driving, management teams also have a responsibility to forecast ways to increase safety in their operations and processes.  Careful analysis of past crashes and understanding what might have contributed to them happening from a process and systems standpoint may uncover opportunities to improve your management strategy.
  3. Develop an even stronger communication strategy with drivers – not just talking at them or demanding more from them, but also learning to listen carefully to their feedback about what’s working and what’s failing to work as well as it could or should. Understanding what processes and systems keep drivers from excelling at their job and helping them with appropriate assistance could be an area to leverage.
  4. Integrate technology where it will help the most.  Technology can be applied in most fleet operations to help deliver insights into ways to increase efficiency or improve safety factors.  The trouble is that for most fleets technology can be disruptive as well. There’s a learning curve to adopting new systems and there must be vigilance in translating these data packets into meaningful management action.  If the follow up isn’t helpful to drivers or other team members, then it may not be worth the effort. One example could be adopting an online education program to refresh drivers on basic safety issues.  If the program is difficult to access, or the videos are tedious, too long, boring or poorly executed then drivers won’t pay attention or change habits.  Investing in a system that is easy to use and has interesting, short programs may be a better course of action.
  5. Actively monitor / manage your CSA scores.  While the CSA score isn’t the best indicator of operational excellence, your team shouldn’t ignore this score, either.  The Bookend BASICS have been discussed elsewhere on this blog — Unsafe Driving and Crash Rate.  When the bookends are firmly managed, the stuff in the middle tends to sort itself out, too.
  6. Don’t be shy in asking for help from your insurer.  Most insurers offer loss control support in various ways — consultants, technical bulletins, and other resources are available but only if you ask for them.  Agents can review your current policies to make sure you have appropriate coverage, and help you navigate the service offerings that come with your policy to be certain you’re getting the maximum benefit for the cost you’ve already agreed to pay.
  7. Leverage your existing safety vendor relationships. Many fleets already work with safety support vendors on issue ranging from log auditing to DQF maintenance.
    1. Are you using the most current service offering from each vendor?
    2. Are there new benefits or features that you could be using?
    3. Does your vendor offer a support network, webinars, or other meetings that could introduce new ideas or help you network with peers in order to increase safety results?
  8. Join, and participate in, a vehicle safety networking group.  Hearing about other peer’s experiences can help you save time, get to decisions more quickly and leverage other professionals learning lessons (why make the same mistake, or why not benefit if they’ve already proven something works well?)  Of course, this commitment works best when you’re an active participant – sharing with the group your own experiences.  It won’t work as well if you join and then lurk in the shadows quietly.

Managing insurance costs is important.  You want to have the right coverage for when things go wrong unexpectedly, but you also want to do whatever is practical to avoid claims or keep their costs as low as possible.

There are many safety articles at this blog site to give you more ideas on ways to prevent crashes.

Let us know what you do that works well at your fleet!

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Crash Management Costs on the Rise

The September issue of Automotive Fleet provided some interesting insights in the general rise in post-crash costs affecting corporate and light duty fleets.  In short, crash management costs have risen by 6.2 percent from 2012 to 2013.ramp collisions

The details are what makes the article interesting.  Changes in car design to incorporate more exotic (and expensive) materials (i.e. aluminum, magnesium and carbon fibers) which reduce weight to increase fuel economy are costly to repair or replace.  The number of parts (sub-assemblies, wiring harnesses, etc.) have also increased making repairs more cumbersome for mechanics, and parts availability has added delays in getting vehicles back on the road.

recallPutting added stress on already overworked repair teams are the floods of car and light duty truck recalls.  Pressed to prioritize, parts makers will push the first available components to “new-vehicle production”, the second batch to support recalls and then, finally, to support the replacement part market.

Technology — from hybrid drive trains to safety features like side impact airbags — also complicate and delay repair projects which drives up costs.  Changes in vehicle manufacturing also have an affect on costs — hot stamping of critical components (transforming low-tensile strength steel into high-strength steel) means that the entire assembly must be replaced instead of cutting away the damaged portion and welding in a piece of steel (the structural strength would be compromised).  This can affect pillars, body panels and structural components.

On the flip side, there are ways to contain costs.

The very best way is to never have the crash in the first place!  Fleets with robust safety programs generally have fewer crashes than fleets with “token” safety processes.  How much of a difference did safety make over the past three years?

  • In 2011. the average fleet had 27% of it’s drivers involved in a crash, but safety-centric fleets had only 25% of their drivers become involved in a crash.
  • A two percentage point difference isn’t much, but in 2012 the gap had widened to 11 points (28% of drivers without safety programs versus 17% of drivers in robust safety programs had crashes.)
  • In 2013, the gap was at 12 percentage points (25% versus 13%).

Key tactics to increase safety results?

  1. Tighten hiring standards as much as possible.  Drivers with extensive histories of tickets and crashes are likely to continue in that mode.  A risk scoring model may help you to identify drivers with chronic patterns of poor driving.
  2. Monitor performance of drivers for complaints, near miss activity, GPS data, newly received tickets, how’s my driving hotline issues, etc.
  3. Drivers who haven’t been through driver education in a while, those who’ve recently had tickets, crashes or complaints should all receive a periodic training module to help break up any complacency around driving safely.  Short, tailored programs on specific topics that have been matched to the issues of each driver is a good strategy.  Sitting through long-winded, tedious presentations that run more than 12 minutes is likely to put your drivers to sleep.
  4. Periodic reminders to all drivers to remain vigilant and to refresh basic understanding of the potential consequences of crashes (personal well being, etc.) can help bolster your communication plan.

Banner gap filled program

Blind Areas Around Big Trucks

MirrorPoster_72dpiAll vehicles have areas (or “zones” or “spots”) around the vehicle where it is difficult to see other cars or trucks even with the help of various mirrors. Most commonly, the area immediately behind the driver’s door on the left side (or the passenger door on the right side) present “hiding spots” where other vehicles may lurk out of sight.

At highway speeds, merging or changing lanes can become a disaster if your movement connects with another vehicle that was in your “blind area”.

To help minimize blind areas, some folks install additional mirrors, cameras or even specialized sensors to detect and alert to the presence of vehicles in these blind areas.

For larger tractor trailers, the size, shape and location of blind areas presents special concerns to truck drivers. While they must do their part to scan around their truck, other motorists have a responsibility to cooperate by understanding that their car may be virtually undetectable within the blind area and do their best to keep out of that zone. Passing large trucks promptly instead of dwelling alongside is one example of a productive, courteous step to avoiding crashes.

The Utah Department of Transportation (as one example) has invested in public education materials to help all motorists and commercial drivers reduce crashes by working together. A colleague shared an example of their video on blind zones around large trucks (called “NO ZONES” in the video — as in these are not the zones to hang about in).

Take a look:

Another video in their series is closely related to this topic — since we’re hoping motorists (and other commercial drivers) won’t hang out in the “no-zone”, we also want the to complete their pass or merge safely.  One danger of passing a big truck is cutting them off (cutting directly in front of them).  This robs the big truck of stopping distance in case of a need to stop suddenly and increases the risk that you’d be hit from behind in such an instance.

Take a look:

These are short, easy to understand modules.  More topics can be found at http://www.udot.utah.gov/trucksmart/index.php

Remember, traffic safety is every driver’s responsibility!

SafetyZone-Safety Goal

Is Speeding a Serious Safety Issue?

The most recent NHTSA study on crashes in the USA analyzed data from 2010. The results were published in May 2014. From that study:

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. 

Key findings included:

  • Alcohol-involved crashes resulted in 13,323 fatalities, 430,000 nonfatal injuries, and $59.4 billion in economic costs in 2010, accounting for 21 percent of all crash costs.
  • 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). This represents 32 percent of all fatalities; 20 percent of all nonfatal injuries, and 16 percent of all property-damage-only crashes.
  • Seat belt non-use represents an enormous lost opportunity for injury prevention. In 2010 alone, over 3,350 people were killed and 54,300 were seriously injured unnecessarily because they failed to wear their seat belts
  • Crashes in which at least one driver was identified as being distracted resulted in 3,267 fatalities…

As a nation of drivers, we continue to struggle with key behavior related issues like drinking and driving, speeding, failure to use seat belts and distracted driving.  Our response to these issues over the years has been to target education and enforcement campaigns to try and convince drivers to change their habits voluntarily.

Social norming” to get behavior change tends to be a very slow process and seems to have hit a plateau — we’ve made great gains in select areas since the 1970s — reducing impaired driving deaths from 50% of the annual total to 30%; increasing seat belt usage to an all-time high of roughly 84% (national average — some states are individually higher).

Unfortunately, we’ve slipped backwards on speeding with the removal of the national speed limit of 55 MPH previously established between 1974 and 1995.  Further, the widespread use of electronic devices has contributed to a new group of crashes caused by driver inattention.

Over the past decade, much legislative and media attention has been devoted to “Distracted Driving” but not nearly as much to other (pardon the pun) ‘drivers’ (factors) of fatal crashes.

Consider society’s view of speeding in contrast to distracted driving.  Most motorists look at speeding as a “non-issue” and not a “big deal” from a safety standpoint (AAFTS traffic safety culture surveys have documented a “prevailing attitude of “Do as I say, not as I do” on the part of American motorists”).

Recently a columnist participated in a “press drive” — a marketing opportunity hosted by a car manufacturer to let journalists test drive new or special edition models out on public roads. While each journalist was admonished to obey all traffic laws, this particular journalist was amazed at the power and acceleration of the test car and wound up getting clocked by police radar at 93 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. (To see his whole article about his speeding incident and subsequent three days in jail, click HERE)

Consider his reaction to the incident:

When I was pulled over during a press drive earlier this summer, I had been living in Washington D.C. for about a year and a half. In that time, I had been warned repeatedly — by ex-Virginia resident Matt Hardigree, by many of our readers, and by a host of other people — that you don’t ever speed in Virginia. But I had no clue just how serious the consequences would be. Maybe “serious” isn’t the right word. After everything that happened, “ridiculous” seems a little more accurate.[emphasis added]

I should probably explain why going into Virginia to have fun in a car is a bad idea in the first place. See, they’re crazy about speeding there. Really, really crazy. Speed limits are set absurdly low, 45 mph on some highways. [Virginia presumably follows the same federally recommended standards, or a derivative of those engineering practices when setting limits on roads based on design, traffic volume, etc.] Radar detectors are illegal, and cops have devices to detect them. And if you get caught going over 80 mph at all, that’s automatically a reckless driving charge.

Reckless driving is not a traffic citation, it’s a criminal charge, and a Class One misdemeanor at that. That means it’s the highest level of misdemeanor you can be charged with in Virginia, right below a felony. The maximum penalty for a reckless driving conviction is a $2,500 fine, a six month driver’s license suspension, and up to a year in jail.

See what I mean when I told you it’s serious? They hand it out like it’s Halloween candy, too. You drive 20 mph over the limit, it’s reckless driving. They even charge you with it for failing to properly signal, or when you’re found to be at fault in a car wreck. I’ve heard of some cases where people get 30 days in jail if they speed over 100 mph.

Other Class One misdemeanors in Virginia include animal cruelty, sexual battery, and aiming a firearm at someone. This is how the state regards people who drive over 80 mph.

I do think Virginia’s speed laws are absurdly harsh, especially as a native of Texas where 80 mph is an almost universally accepted highway speed by most drivers and where a toll road just outside of Austin lets you go 85 mph. There, this probably would have been a really expensive speeding ticket; maybe even one I could get dismissed with defensive driving.[emphasis added] I covered the courts for a long time when I was a newspaper reporter in Austin, and I was floored to learn Virginia actually sends people to jail just for speeding.

But that doesn’t excuse what I did. I came into Virginia and broke their laws; I drove way too fast. This is my fault and no one else’s. (Well, maybe the ZL1’s.) This wasn’t one of those moments where I got nailed going 5 mph over in some ridiculously low section of a county designed only for revenue collection; how could I justify going 93 in a 55 when I went to court, I wondered?

So, the driver hired an attorney to broker a plea deal with the court.

The best plea deal I got was a fine of about $400 with court costs, a 10-day suspension of my license in Virginia, and three days in jail. The judge has an option of giving one day in jail for every mile an hour over 90 mph, and he would exercise it here.

So I took the plea, but I was pretty despondent over the outcome for weeks. The fees and license suspension weren’t a big deal, but I was alternately livid and depressed that I’d be going to jail, even for a short stay. I didn’t hurt anyone, or kill anyone, or sell drugs, or drive drunk, or beat my wife, or steal; I was going to jail because I drove too fast in a car.

The best news of all this was that I wasn’t fired. Matt said the last thing you’ll ever get fired for at Jalopnik is speeding. It’s just an occupational hazard for us. And when I emailed Gawker’s editorial director Joel Johnson to apologize, he replied saying, “I don’t give a f**k,” and added that he found the matter “hilarious.”

Would this story have been different if the citation were for texting while driving instead of speeding?  Would the editorial director have had the nerve to consider the situation “hilarious”?

From the recent NTHSA study:

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.

As long as we consider speeding to be our right, speed limits to be merely suggestions, and tickets as only a way for states to make revenue over a non-issue, we will continue to have a plateau in our traffic safety results.  Things can not improve (i.e. people will not stop dying) until this nation breaks it’s obsession with speeding as an acceptable practice for motorists.

What do you think?  IS speeding a non-issue?  Or is it a deathly serious issue?

If your friends think getting a speeding ticket or spending three days in jail for speeding is “hilarious” then consider some of these Public Service Ads from countries that are more progressive in their safety attitude than the USA….

Australian PSA on how reducing speed (even by only 5 KPH) can save lives

Rushing = letting emotions control our better judgement when driving (Australian PSA)

Speeding – is it a ‘mistake’? New Zealand PSA

Irish PSA on speeding “you can’t control the consequences of speeding”