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”

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:

Idaho to raise max limit to 80MPH

Heavy Duty Trucking recently reported (click HERE) that:

Legislation signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter allows an increase of up to 80 mph along interstate routes and 70 mph along state highways, but trucks would continue to be limited up to 10 mph slower. The law leaves the final decision for any increase up to the Idaho Transportation Department, once it has competed studies to see if the routes could handle the higher speeds.

The typical arguments (“Pro-Con”) for this change include:

  • motorists are already driving this fast, so let them
  • increased productivity by allowing cargo to transit the state more quickly
  • other states are doing it and the “leap” from 70 or 75 to 80 isn’t likely to significantly increase crash rates beyond the current rate (which is arguably higher than when max limits were at 55 MPH)
  • split speed limits for trucks and cars means more passing events due to the differential in speed and more interactions between extra heavy and light duty vehicles
  • the new maximum limit would only be approved for certain segments of highway as deemed acceptable by the state DOT.
  • prolonged running at 80 MPH increases the risk of blowouts if tires are under-pressure
  • prolonged running at 80 MPH increases fuel consumption to maintain that speed (especially if encountering head winds)
  • prolonged running at 80 MPH increases carbon emissions 

Texas and Utah already allow 80 MPH on select routes and Wyoming is considering the same.

How do you feel about raising speed limits on rural highways?  

How about split limits for trucks?

Getting People to Change their Driving Habits

Following yesterday’s post about exploring fresh ways to address traffic safety culture, a colleague shared a link to an excellent blog called “Mobilizing the Region”   At this site (http://blog.tstc.org/2014/01/14/better-safety-education-campaigns-could-reduce-traffic-fatalities-in-the-united-states/) there’s a great article comparing the typical USA-based Public Service Announcements (PSAs) for traffic safety to those used elsewhere in the world.

Many of the US-based ads send a message of “DON’T GET CAUGHT“, implying that the unlawful, ill-advised behaviors and habits are fully expected and normal — just avoid detection and it’s OK.  Worse, some speeding PSAs send a message that speeding is OK, just expensive (if you can afford the fines, you’re somehow justified in speeding).

This past year a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted seven experiments. Two of them measured the behavior of drivers at four-way intersections and at crosswalks.  Conclusions?

  • “Drivers of more expensive cars are more likely to cut off other drivers and violate pedestrians’ right of way.” and
  • “Upper-class individuals’ relative independence from others and increased privacy in their professions may provide fewer structural constraints and decreased perceptions of risk associated with committing unethical acts.”

This seems to reinforce the PSAs who suggest the only reason to drive at or under the speed limit is if you can’t afford to pay the fine, but if you can afford it, set your own limit based on your wallet’s contents.

A recent article in Wall Street Journal “Should Wealthy Drivers Be Fined More for Speeding?” (January 12, 2014) discusses the emerging trend in Europe to base traffic safety fines on the net worth of the individual in order to curb reckless and aggressive driving habits.  The article suggests that “For a multimillionaire, a $100 speeding fine is simply a small price to pay for saving time on the road.” therefore, a rich Ferrari driver with a history of violations in Switzerland was recently given a $290,000 ticket–a world record. The article continues “Such fines, pegged to wealth, are becoming increasingly common in Europe. Germany, France, Austria and the Nordic countries are issuing higher speeding fines for wealthier drivers. In Germany, the maximum fine could be $16 million.

Do you think increasing fines (tied to personal worth) are feasible in the USA?  Would this approach make any difference or only confirm that driver safety culture can be bought at a price?  

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.

Thanksgiving & Driving 2012

Thanksgiving is a time here in the USA when families gather to share a meal, watch football and go shopping.  It’s a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, because everyone is traveling to get to their reunion location (or even to go to the mall for supplies, treats or presents) the roads can be a nightmare of congestion and traffic delays due to drivers who may be lost, looking for a turnoff, distracted by traffic apps and navigation systems, or just plain angry that they’re stuck in all this mess.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to remind everyone to buckle up during the holiday period.  While seatbelt use is at all time highs, anyone who fails to wear their restraint is exposed to the same potential outcomes — injuries and even death.  As NHTSA says, “Buckle UP, America!”

Lost?  Stuck in traffic behind a crash? Using apps on smartphones to find alternate routes or directions to grandma’s house may be productive, but only if they’re not being used by the driver while he or she is driving!  Let a co-pilot manage the directions or simply agree to only access apps while safely parked on a side street or mall parking lot, etc.  Distractions also come from passengers who are either excited to be traveling or those who are bored and cranky from being couped up for too long.  Taking breaks on long trips can help the driver in many ways (i.e. fresh air and a little exercise refresh the body and mind — and give the passengers a chance to do the same).

It is important to remind folks that drinking and driving related crashes tend to spike around holidays.  “Buzzed Driving = Drunk Driving” (see the embedded video, below.  It was produced by NHTSA and the AdCouncil about a Thanksgiving holiday crash).  As a responsbile driver, no one should be tempted to use the excuse “but it was only one drink” — one drink too many leads to tragic outcomes.  Drinking and driving is a choice, not a chance — luck should never be a factor someone depends on when avoiding crashes.  Designated drivers save lives.

Eating too much Turkey?  Drivers who drive “drowsy”, especially during late night or early morning hours could easily fall asleep behind the wheel without realizing what’s happening until it’s too late.  Exercise, fresh air and a balanced diet can help with this issue.  Coffee is at best a “band-aid” for drowsiness and not dependable!  Be vigilant so that driving home after a long feast doesn’t become the last trip you ever make.

Now, no one wants to think about morbid issues like traffic fatalities during festive celebrations, but the shocking reality of getting “the phone call” that a loved one is never celebrating another holiday feast with their family, friends and neighbors isn’t on anyone’s wish list either.

Make time to remind your family and friends to be extra vigilant with their driving during the holidays – it’s a good use of your time and it shows that you care about them.  Don’t let a failure to wear seatbelts, a text message, rushing to get there, or “one-drink-too-many” tragically ruin what should be a time of celebration and thanksgiving for all the freedom, privileges and gifts we enjoy as a nation.

Here are a collection of tips and facts provided by NHTSA for you to consider and to share:

  • Wearing your seat belt is the single most effective way to save your life and the lives of your loved ones while on the road this Thanksgiving holiday.
  • One of the best ways to ensure a safe arrival at any destination is to buckle up, every trip, every time.
  • With the help of highway safety advocates and local law enforcement officers across the country, we can increase seat belt use and save lives on our roadways.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010 alone, seat belts saved more than 12,500 lives nationwide.
  • With proper seat belt use, research shows that the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants is reduced by 45 percent, and the risk of moderate to serious injury is reduced by 50 percent. 
  • Yet, nationally in 2010, 51 percent of the 22,187 passenger vehicle occupants who were killed in motor vehicle crashes were NOT wearing seat belts at the time of their fatal crashes.
  • During the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday (which ran from 6 p.m., Wednesday, November 24, to 5:59 a.m., Monday, November 29) 337 passenger vehicle occupants were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes nationwide, and 55 percent of those killed were unbelted. 
  • Nighttime hours are the most dangerous.  In 2010 nationally, 61 percent of the 10,647 passenger vehicle occupants who were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes overnight (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) were not wearing their seat belts at the time of the fatal crash, compared to 42 percent during the daytime hours.
  • Unfortunately, nighttime fatalities spike over the Thanksgiving holiday. During the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday weekend, 64 percent of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were unbelted, while only 41 percent of daytime fatalities during those same days involved unbelted passenger vehicle occupants.


SafetyFirst Systems provides comprehensive driver safety programs to commercial and sales fleets throughout North America.  We help more than 3800 active fleet clients to mitigate collisions in such diverse businesses as telecomunications, food & beverage, local delivery, construction, HVAC, human services, arborists and municipalities.

Making Tough Choices

As a traffic safety professional, I usually try not to “talk shop” at social events. 

On one hand, I easily get preachy about how people should gear up their driving skills: I don’t want to go to more funerals for people I care about because they were killed in a crash.  While I’ve always had a passion for helping drivers be safer, I’ve also seen the consequences of traffic tragedy:

  • I have worked for a man who lost his child in a crash
  • I’ve had colleagues who’ve lost sons and daughters in crashes
  • My own mother died, on the day after Christmas in 2008, when a pickup truck crushed her sedan in half at an intersection.  I also feel bad for the driver of that pickup because he’ll have to live with the images of driving her car off the road, into a drainage ditch beyond the intersection.

On the other hand, most people only know what they hear about on the TV news or read in the papers.  This wouldn’t be a problem if the media covered ALL aspects of traffic safety evenly or comprehensively, but they don’t.  Media outlets are paid to make a profit through high ratings which sell advertising space.  The very best way to “make the news” is to start with the truth and then sensationalize how it’s delivered.  I’m not suggesting that newsmakers misinform, but I believe that they do put a spin on how they tell their stories to make them engaging and enthralling.  This leads to the public becoming hyper-focused about a tiny slice of what’s really going on in the world of traffic safety.  Again, the media reported stories are accurate, but don’t show the “whole picture” – they’re often out of context. 

Take a look at this link — http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Common/Chart.aspx  What’s the most common issue in traffic fatalities?  “Failure to keep in proper lane” resulted in 7,696 funeral services in one year.  That’s terrible, and yet, you’ll not hear about that in the news.

How about this link – http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811090.PDF  In this document, it states:

“Speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. It reduces a driver’s ability to steer safely around curves or objects in the roadway, extends the distance necessary to stop a vehicle, and increases the distance a vehicle travels while a driver reacts to a dangerous situation. Higher crash speeds also reduce the ability of vehicle, restraint system, and roadway hardware such as guardrails, barriers, and impact attenuators to protect vehicle occupants.”

How many lives would be saved if everyone obeyed the nationwide ban on speeding (i.e. “speed limits” posted in your hometown and on the interstate)?  Similarly, how about if speed limits were enforced as strictly as the IRS audits tax returns?  Do you think road deaths would go down measurably?

On the topic of speeding, have you heard much about the use of “Speed Limiters” (SLs) on heavy trucks?  A study was released in March of this year (http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/facts-research/research-technology/report/Speed-Limiters.pdf); the stated purpose was:

“…to identify the impacts of implementing speed limiters (SL) in commercial vehicle fleet operations. These impacts may be related to safety through a reduction in the number and/or severity of crashes, and/or address operational issues…”

The study included data from “20 truck fleets, approximately 138,000 trucks, and analyzed more than 15,000 crashes.”

The findings showed strong positive benefits for SLs:

“First, in terms of safety benefits, results indicated that trucks equipped with SLs had a significantly lower SL-relevant crash rate (approximately 50 percent) compared to trucks without SLs. Second, the cost of the technology is negligible and would not be expected to be cost-prohibitive for fleets/owners.”

Amazingly, using equipment that’s been largely “standard issue” (i.e. included in all newly manufactured heavy trucks and consequently no added cost) many commercial fleets could substantially reduce their crash rate (by 50% if the study’s methodology is accurate).  However, many safety managers lament that their fleet will not use the devices.  Many express that it’s critical to their productivity that drivers must be able to speed to “make up lost time” in urban areas where they sit in congestion and lose eligible work hours.

There are, arguably, hundreds of additional traffic safety issues that deserve our attention (i.e. roundabouts, automated enforcement, advanced telematics to monitor more safety issues than speed alone, congestion management, 511 service utilization, etc.); however, it all comes down to tough choices.

These are tough choices about what to prioritize.  What’s most important?  What are the top ten issues that we should focus on addressing first?

If you ask the media, there is apparently only one answer – cell phones and texting.  Improper cell phone use while driving is certainly an important cause, but it’s far from the only cause of death and injury. 

During 2011, SafetyFirst processed tens of thousands of motorist observation reports for our 3800+ active clients.  3.81% of all reports mentioned improper cell phone use.  At first glance, that may look like a low number, but what’s more significant is that it represents a 20% INCREASE in complaints for cells/texting over CY2010.  Despite the increase in complaints about improper use of electronics, it remains a relatively minor contributor to the total number of road deaths when split out from the much broader category of “distracted driving”.  

Does that make the need to curb the use of cells for texting unimportant?  NOT AT ALL.  However, I think it calls for some perspective adjusting to properly fit together the mosaic of various driver safety issues.

For example, a colleague recently challenged me on the cell/texting statistics arguing that I was callous about the relatively low number of cell/texting deaths and stated that “if we could save even one life we had an obligation to put all our resources into it”.  I asked if she’d be willing to have a speed limiter installed on her personal car to save a life since speeding contributed to four times the number of deaths than cells/texting alone.  She declined the suggestion preferring to be able to pass slower drivers (who are, I suppose, actually driving the posted maximum speed limit).  [Author’s note:  I appreciate her honesty. Many people would have gone for some contrived response to duck the real issue – we take risks and have gotten used to it]

Despite the emotional spin offered by the media about the urgency of these issues, most people won’t actually commit to improve road safety unless it is to advocate what other drivers need to do to change.  If it means that they have to commit to making a tough choice to change their own driving, they’re less likely to do so1,2.

How will we make a lasting change in issues like cell phones and texting?  I believe that looking at the history of seatbelt usage programs may provide guidance on how we can tackle the cell phone dilemma.

It took a lot of people deciding to wear their seatbelts consistently to make a change over the course of the past thirty years.  In 1983 seatbelt use in the USA was at 14% and it has grown to 85% as of 20103.  The steady change in personal commitment to use seatbelts took:  massive educational programs, special traffic enforcement programs (STEPs), and the cooperation of car manufacturers, local communities and various enforcement agencies.  It didn’t change overnight, and it didn’t happen solely because we banned driving unbelted — it took a commitment from more than one generation of drivers to make a difference.

Similarly, it will take a concerted effort people making tough choices to:  slow down; use turn signals correctly; yield the right of way courteously; hang up the phone; and drive in a focused, self-disciplined manner to further reduce collisions and their associated costs.

Summary

Whether you characterize yourself as a Parent, Teen Driver, Senior Citizen, Professional Driver or a daily Commuter, we each have to make tough choices if we’re going to actually improve road safety results.  We can’t sit back and expect things to change because it’s someone else’s job to drive better than they did yesterday.

Additionally, as safety professionals, my peers will need to continue to guide their constituents based on constructive prioritization – making them aware of all the road risks, not just the sensationalized ones.  So when you see articles about roundabouts, red light cameras, Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, and such, we’re not ignoring or trivializing cell phones and texting.  We are trying to do our best to deal with many critical issues that lead to real pain and suffering.

Because many people can be manipulated by fear and anger, there’s a great responsibility to raise the bar and really make a difference in the greater community.  This larger community is depending on our leadership to execute a complex, but effective, strategy of reducing road deaths – not “regardless of cause” but because we’ve carefully studied “all of the causes” and made tough choices to prioritize appropriately to save as many lives as possible.

1 – AAAFTS Traffic Safety Culture Index, January 2012 – “…the current traffic safety culture that might be characterized most appropriately as a “do as I say, not as I do”… For example, substantial numbers of drivers say that it is completely unacceptable to drive 10 mph over the speed limit on residential streets yet admit having done that in the past month. (http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/2011TSCIndex.pdf)

2 – Press Release by AAAFTS, March 8th, 2012 – “Speeding remains a significant safety threat on U.S. roadways—contributing to nearly one-third of all traffic deaths each year – and while motorists frequently list aggressive driving as a top safety concern, many still admit to driving well over posted speed limits.” (http://newsroom.aaa.com/tag/traffic-safety-culture-index/)

3 – http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811493.pdf

Exceeding the Speed Limit

Sometimes it seems like “exceeding the posted speed limit” doesn’t get as much attention as other safety issues like drunk driving or “texting” on a cell phone while driving, but it is just as lethal.  According to National Safety Council; “Exceeding the posted speed limit or driving at an unsafe speed was the most common error in fatal accidents.” (http://www.nsc.org/safety_road/DriverSafety/Pages/Speeding.aspx)

Speeding is the most commonly cited factor in deaths from collisions where there was some form of “improper driving” assessed by the team investigating and reporting the crash.  This is also confirmed in the most recent Large Truck Crash Causation Study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/facts-research/LTCO2009/LTCO2009.aspx):  “The top two driver-related factors for large trucks and passenger vehicles in fatal crashes were the same: driving too fast…and failure to keep in proper lane.”

Interestingly, only 12% of fatal crashes where speeding was the principal factor occurred on interstate highways – speeding in your home town, going 45 in a 25 zone, etc. were more likely to lead to a fatality than exceeding the limit on a limited access highway.  This is likely due to many factors:  the relative absence of pedestrians and bicycles on highways; the road design of rural highways and county roads; sharper curves, poor illumination and oncoming traffic that is not separated by a barrier or median strip.

Speed increases the potential of having a crash for two specific reasons:

  1. As a vehicle travels faster, more time is needed to safely complete any turn, swerve or stop.  (You need more time)
  2. Additionally, greater speed significantly reduces the time available to view and judge the situation, and decide what action to take. (You have less time)

Speeding also raises the chances of severe injuries or death during the crash.  The amount of energy that is released at the moment of impact is directly related to your vehicle’s speed.  Speeding increases the crash energy by the square of the speeds involved. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), “when impact speed increases from 40 to 60 mph (a 50 percent increase), the energy that needs to be managed increases by 125 percent.” (http://www.iihs.org/research/qanda/speed_limits.html)

Simply put, the faster you go, your injuries will be more extensive and the more likely it becomes that seatbelts, airbags, antilock brakes, traction control systems or other safety devices will not be effective enough to save your life.

There are other consequences to speeding that can affect drivers, too.  Most states add extra penalties (points, fines) for speeding violations that are more than 15 miles per hour above the posted limit.   

This type of violation (excessive speed) is perceived as a major violation by most employers and insurance carriers and could affect future employment prospects or increases in personal insurance costs.

If you need additional information about speeding, this month’s SafetyFirst Ten-Minute Training Topic covered this in more detail.  Also, you can check out NHTSA’s tool box on speeding — http://www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov/speed/toolkit/  This offers materials in both English and Spanish and it’s a free resource!