Monday, October 27, 2008

Building a Traffic Safety Culture - Part 1

A silent cross and shuddering bundle of flowers speak volumes — especially on a roadside.

America is all too familiar with the imagery. Last year, 41,059 times too familiar, to be precise. Roadway deaths are the number one killer of individuals age 2 to 34 and have claimed over one million lives in the past 25 years. However, the most disturbing statistic is that the number of yearly deaths has essentially remained the same since the early 1990s.

And, the saddest fact is that the great majority of these deaths are preventable. These are not just accidents waiting to happen. As motorists, we can greatly reduce the likelihood of being in a fatal crash by simply adopting some common-sense behaviors. Buckle up each and every time you are in a vehicle; turn the keys over to someone else if you have been drinking; keep your eyes on the road and mind on the driving task. So, put down the cell phone, PDA or sandwich; obey the speed limit and be courteous.

Furthermore, there are many other things that car manufacturers, road authorities, and elected officials could do to reduce the risks to the motoring public. In fact, there is a long list of known solutions that have been validated in the real world and shown to reduce traffic crashes or their impact. Once implemented, this combination of revitalized traffic safety laws and vehicle and roadway improvements could make the zero-death vision being adopted by more and more transportation organizations a reality. So, why don’t we?


Eric Trow said...

Well put, Mr. Kissinger. Coming from the world of motorcycle safety training (I own and operate Stayin' Safe, a national motorcycle training program that provides real-time on-street instruction in real-world environments. I am also a monthly safety columnist for Rider Magazine) I find that the issues you present are growing concerns for all motorists, especially the more vulnerable motorcyclist. In our approach to street riding strategies, we are placing increasing emphasis on the fact that other drivers may not be actively engaged in the driving process or even mentally processing what is going on around them in the driving environment. My observations have been that mobile phone use has compromised attention--drivers who may be looking ahead or even making eye contact are often not "seeing." The rampant act of text messaging while driving has gone a step beyond by averting the operator's eyes as well as his or her mind. As you suggest, simple common sense and keeping one's mind on the driving task (or even a small dose of self awareness) could go a long way in protecting all motorists.

The blame cannot be placed strictly on automobile drivers. As technology now makes it easier for motorcyclists to have Bluetooth access to cell phones, satellite radio and iPods in the comfort of their own helmets (provided they're wearing them), we are just as concerned about riders suffering from the same effects associated with inattentiveness. Put those riders in an environment filled with other preoccupied drivers and the outcome is predictably unpleasant.

Our training efforts are focused on crash avoidance and the mental aspects of riding a motorcycle. And I still believe that more than 90% of motorcycle crashes (and automobile crashes for that matter) are avoidable through active engagement in the act of driving, continual assessment of the driving environment to spot developing scenarios, followed by appropriate adjustment of speed and/or position to separate one's self from potential danger. In our program we emphasize three primary strategies that I believe would benefit all motorists; "Maintain 360-degree awareness at all times, put the motorcycle where others can't touch you and finally, eliminate surprises." To accomplish those, however, motorists--regardless of the number of wheels on which they ride--must do exactly as you suggest: put down the cell phone, PDA and sandwich first.

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