Learning from Crash Events

There’s a lot being reported about the crash on the New Jersey Turnpike which involved a Tractor Trailer and a chauffeured limousine-van transporting comedian Tracy Morgan. Tragically, several people were injured and one passenger died.

Some of the clear facts include:

  • The tractor trailer was traveling above the posted (construction zone) limit of 45 MPH.
  • The event occurred during the early morning hours when visibility is reduced and all drivers are more prone to drowsiness.
  • The tractor trailer operator had been on duty for most of his allotted-by-regulation time (suggesting fatigue as a possible contributing factor).

According to other reports (Star Ledger, et.al.):

  • The tractor trailer “…was equipped with sophisticated collision-avoidance systems that included forward-looking radar with interactive cruise control — all designed to begin automatically braking the big truck when it sensed traffic slowing down. It was programmed to notify the driver of any vehicles stopped ahead in the roadway. There was an on-board computer, blind spot sensors, and electronic controls limiting its top speed to 65 miles per hour.”
  • ATA executive vice president David Osiecki was quoted as saying that speeding is “the highest cause and contributing factor” in most crashes.  Further, “We want to return to a national maximum speed limit. Some states are at 80. Some at 75. That’s the biggest safety problem on the highways.”

So what can we conclude — how do we learn from this to prevent similar tragedies in the future?  The National Transportation Safety Board and the NJ State Police are actively investigating to follow up on questions like:

  • Did the on-board collision warning and avoidance system fail to function correctly?
  • While the tractor trailer driver was within his regulated allotment of duty/driving hours, should the regulations be modified further?
  • Was a lack of enforcement of speed limits in a construction zone play some role in creating a culture of speeding on that highway?
  • Were seatbelts in the limo adequate to prevent further/greater injuries or could their design be improved, too?

All road deaths and injury producing crashes are tragic, and we need to learn from each occurrence to determine ways to prevent future events.

cropped-drowsy-driving.jpg

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.

cropped-thanksgiving-traffic.jpg

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).

cropped-web-banner-blog-20112.jpg

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.

Police

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.)

cropped-more-thanksgiving-traffic.jpg

Crashes, Fatalities Tragically On the Increase for 1Q2012

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released preliminary data for the first Quarter of 2012. 

According to an Associated Press article;

“Traffic deaths soared 13.5 percent in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period last year, and the number of deaths per miles driven also rose significantly, according to preliminary government estimates released Friday.  An estimated 7,630 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first three months of 2012, up from 6,720 deaths in the first quarter of last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.”

“If the estimate holds true, it would be the second largest year-to-year quarterly increase since the government began recording traffic fatalities in 1975. It would also run counter to historic declines in deaths over the past four years.”

While NHTSA did not provide any evidence or opinions about the change in activity, many experts attribute it to the steadily recovering economy, an increase in mileage and congestion, and more people commuting longer distances to find employment.

The significant question is whether this reversal in trends will continue and what that will mean for employers whose operations depend on vehicles for deliveries, transporting passengers, getting crews to job sites, etc.

During the downturned economy, many firms reduced overhead by eliminating safety programs, training, and safety professionals from their payroll.  While as a nation, we’ve enjoyed four years of decreasing fatalities and crashes, now is the time for responsible management teams to shake off any reservations about re-investing in proven safety programs.  Safety complacency and increasing road congestion make an extremely bad combination.

What are you doing, personally or professionally (as an employer or employee-driver), to modify your driving tactics as congestion increases?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/traffic-deaths-soar-135-percent-in-1st-quarter-of-2012-as-motorists-increase-their-driving/2012/07/20/gJQAtuBPyW_story.html

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).