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RightNation.US: Even As Cars Get Safer, Traffic Fatalities Still High - RightNation.US

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Even As Cars Get Safer, Traffic Fatalities Still High
August 22, 20188:55 AM ET
David Schaper
© 2018 npr
Source; excerpts follow:

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The U.S is on pace to record close to 40,000 roadway and highway deaths for the third consecutive year, according to preliminary figures released Wednesday by the National Safety Council. The silver lining in those dark numbers is that the number of people dying each year in traffic collisions nationwide appears to be leveling off after two years of sharp increases…

From 2014 to 2016, the number of people killed in motor vehicle collisions jumped from a little over 35,000 to more than 40,000, before leveling off at about 40,000 fatalities last year, a trend that appears to be continuing…

The surge in highway deaths coincided with a growing economy and cheaper gas prices, which combined to lead to a sharp increase in vehicle miles traveled, which [NSC researcher Ken] Kolosh calls "a perfect storm" to increase motor vehicle fatalities. While the economy continues to grow, the number of vehicle miles traveled so far this year is not increasing at the rate of those 2014-2016 levels. Current levels are still lower than the early 2000s.

Kolosh says speeding, drug and alcohol impaired driving, distracted driving and failure to wear seat belts all continue to contribute to motor vehicle fatalities even as vehicles and roadways become safer…

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducts observation studies every year, looking at what drivers are doing behind the wheel. "And they're actually seeing decreases in the number of drivers interacting with their cellphones while behind the wheel," says Kolosh, adding that tougher laws banning texting and talking on hand-held devices appear to be working.

I wasn't aware (or don't remember) that traffic fatalities had gone up in recent years. There had been a general decline for decades as vehicle and road designs improved. The 40,000 figure is absolute, not relative to the number of vehicles on the road, so traffic may still be safer than it was in years gone by. Obviously, there's still room for improvement.

If drivers are truly less distracted than in prior years, then it's fantastic. But I wondered what they meant by "observation studies" so, I went to the NHTSA's website page on distracted driving and clicked through the link on: "More statistics on distracted driving and other risky driving behaviors are available here. (PDF file) That lead to: "Driver Electronic Device Use in 2015".

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… These results are from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), which provides the only nationwide probability-based observed data on driver electronic device use in the United States. The NOPUS is conducted annually by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

They have "observers" standing near stop signs and traffic lights, between the hours of 7AM and 6PM, making notes on what drivers in stopped cars are doing. One of footnotes notes: "… based on the subjective assessments of roadside observers". And commercial and government vehicles are excluded. Does anyone else see a problem with this?

Let's count the ways:

One: The aforementioned "subjective assessments" are hardly the stuff of clinical research. No matter how much you quantify it, these are still people's opinions of what other people are doing. There's lots of room for misinterpretation in there.

Two: People are driving 24-hours per day, not just this 11-hour "window". True, these hours represent the bulk of passenger car travel but cars also crash at night. And I understand that it's very difficult (sometimes impossible) to get a clear view of what's happening inside a vehicle when the sun isn't shining.

Three: Similar to the above point, it's also difficult to clearly see inside a vehicle during inclement weather, notably rain and snow. I don't see that mentioned herein.

Four: I also understand how difficult it is to see inside a truck, bus, or other large vehicle but since such have a much greater potential for damage and injury, I would think it significant to include these.

Five: The subject vehicles are STOPPED. They are at a standstill. The greatest risk for distracted drivers at stop signs and red lights is that other drivers will honk at them for not moving on. Indeed, traffic safety risks almost exclusively involve MOVING vehicles. If someone is (let's say) clipping their nails at a red light, what's the risk? I get it: You're a driver and you're distracted but isn't clipping your nails at 65-mph a much more salient behavior to this type of analysis?

Finally: Electronic device usage, although probably most common, is definitely not the only form of driver distraction.

I'm trying to point out that this research methodology is remarkably limited. Driver behavior in non-moving vehicles is not the same thing as actually driving the car. And while I don't want to discourage research into driver behaviors, you can't say drivers are less distracted because of this kind of study.

Indeed, about 3-out-of-4 US drivers admit to using a cell phone while driving; these roughly 5% figures seem way off the mark.
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3 Comments On This Entry

There's a phenomenon (scientific term I can't remember) where increasing something's safety leads to riskier behavior. For example, people are willing to drive faster with seat belts on than off. People will do all kinds of things wearing a helmet that they wouldn't without one. etc.

Yeah, there are still the idiots who text at 70 mph on a motor cycle, but I bet there are a lot more of them in their cars with seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, and nowdays even "crash imminent" warning systems. There's probably not a way around it. The safety features are good. My wife and son walked away from a head-on crash at an intersection with just some bruises for my wife and nothing wrong we could find on my son, but which probably would have killed them both with a 1950's car.
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I wasn't aware (or don't remember) that traffic fatalities had gone up in recent years. There had been a general decline for decades as vehicle and road designs improved. The 40,000 figure is absolute, not relative to the number of vehicles on the road, so traffic may still be safer than it was in years gone by. Obviously, there's still room for improvement.


Surprisingly, it's true. At least in some places.

GA Dep't of Trasnsportation: Fatalities on Georgia’s Roads Are Up 32% in the Last Three Years.

My theory is that it's not relative to (merely) increased population, but is relative to how far beyond original design spec the roads around here are traveled.

I heard it said one time that the Atlanta area has 6 million drivers on roads designed for 1 million. I can't cite the exact source of that but a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation says it's probably close.

A road has a 'capacity' not JUST in terms of weight but safety as well; A road has reached capacity when every vehicle has just enough stopping distance, with the rule of thumb being 1 car-length for every 10 MPH. That is to say, a road designed for 60 MPH should have no more than 1 vehicle every 7 car-lengths (6 lengths in between) per lane.

Aw, hell, it's been probably 30 or 40 years since Atlanta roads were traveled THAT lightly. Roads that may have been designed for 1 car every 7 lengths now have 6 cars in that same length.
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Zero surprise.

A 200-HP engine with driver housed in 1/8-inch thick fiberglass and plastic (call it what one will, it's plastic) and go play bumper cars in traffic travelling at 75mph on the interstates, people are going to die.

Simply put, the econoboxes that were born out of necessity thanks to the ever-skyrocketing MPG standards have zero real protection. Lots of gadgets, with bells, whistles and lights going off around you as you die, but die you will.

You want a safe car? My dad's 1968 Chevy Impala. He clipped a concrete bridge once and broke it---the bridge, not the car. :P
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