Friday, April 30, 2010


Please note we have moved our blog address to All future posts will be submitted to this new address.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Distracted Driving Discussion Continues to Grow

I want to applaud Oprah’s Dnt TXT N Drv Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, and commend her for drawing the public’s attention to this unsafe and increasingly common behavior. Distracted driving is now one of the most discussed public safety issues in America thanks to the Distracted Driving Summit hosted by the U.S. DOT and Secretary Ray LaHood last September. The issue has vaulted to the top of many legislative agendas and now 23 states and the District of Columbia have banned texted while driving with more states expected to follow in 2010. Though AAA Foundation research shows the public is aware of the dangers involved with using cell phones while driving, many continue to do so on a regular basis, risking their lives, and ours, every time they pick up their phone. This disconnect between behavior and knowledge is one that we as a society must try to overcome.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How Important Is That Cell Phone Call?

Traffic safety advocates and experts have been preaching about the dangers cell phone use for years, and are pleased to see high powered advocates like Oprah and Secretary LaHood taking up the cause. Our most recent Traffic Safety Culture study confirmed drivers are hearing the message with 80% saying they agree that distracted driving is a serious threat to road safety. However, 67% of those same drivers also admitted to using a cell phone while driving in the previous month. This clearly indicates while the message is being heard, driver behavior still isn’t changing. This “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude must change!

Undoubtedly, many drivers believe they have above average skills and can multi-task with any consequences. However, a recent study by the University of Utah has reconfirmed that our brains are simply not wired to multi-task. Earlier work at Carnegie Melon University summarized in a recent National Safety Council White Paper showed that relevant brain activity “decreased by 37%” when multi-tasking. Hopefully, these new findings will convince drivers to give up their cell phone habit while driving.

And, the next time you are in a vehicle and are tempted to make a cell phone call, just ask yourself the question – How important is that phone call? Is it worth risking getting in an accident, damaging your car, injuring or even killing yourself or someone else? I hope you will agree that the only correct answer is no to all these, since far too often someone else pays the price for another driver forgetting that. No phone call or text message is worth the risk and potential consequences!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Federal Government Announces Decline in 2009 Deaths

The substantial drop in highway deaths in 2009 is great news and something we should all applaud. But this good news in no way should weaken our collective resolve to further intensify our efforts to further enhance traffic safety. 33,963 deaths is a huge number – an outrageous number. And yet, many motorists, citizens, legislators, regulators and society, in general, have for the most part accepted this huge number of traffic deaths, seemingly as the price we need to pay to enjoy our mobility.

The cars we drive and the roads we drive on are clearly safer today that they were 25 years ago, and the historical downward trend in serious traffic crashes reflect that. But, let us not forget that over the past 25 years, we have lost over one million men, women and children in traffic crashes in this country. Clearly, what some have called the disease of mobility deserves more serious attention.

Many traffic safety experts believe we could reduce this carnage by as much as 50% if we had the political courage to implement known solutions. As an example: For every mile that they drive, a 16- or 17-year-old is over 500% more likely to be involved in a fatal crash, compared to a 40-year-old. This shouldn’t be a great surprise. Learning to drive a car, at realistic speeds, on a public road, and interact safely with other traffic, is a tremendously complex undertaking. It requires skill, experience, and a mature attitude—all things that a typical 16- or 17-year-old who has been licensed for a few months is well on the way to developing, but really doesn’t have enough of yet. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept that enough teen-agers to fill a couple of large high schools are going to die on the roads every year, just because we as a society choose to value mobility.

A couple of decades ago, most states would just let a young person take a trivially-easy road test and then turn them loose on the road. Things are different now. We know that when the licensing system is designed to protect newly-licensed young drivers from the most needlessly dangerous conditions—like driving late at night or with other teen-agers in the car—and then gradually phase in more privileges as they improve their skills and gain experience, more sixteen-year-olds live to celebrate their seventeenth birthday. Every state now has at least some elements of what we call graduated driver licensing. In 2008, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 261 16-year-old drivers died on our roads. In 1995—the year before the first state graduated driver licensing system was put into place—the number was more than twice as many: 528.

Graduated driver licensing is clearly a success story. To be sure, most if not all states can still do an even better job of protecting their young novice drivers, but we have seen great success here. There are more success stories just waiting to be had. Case in point: half of all fatal crashes involve a driver inadvertently crossing over the centerline or driving off of the road. Engineers know how to keep drivers in their lanes, and how to prevent anything catastrophic from happening if somehow they do still drive out of their lane or off the road. But making roads safer requires investment, and historically, we haven’t put anywhere near enough money into making our rural roads and highways acceptably safe for our motoring public in this country.

A few years ago, the Missouri DOT decided that when you’re driving down the Interstate, you shouldn’t have to worry about a car coming from the opposite side of the highway veering out of control and ending up in your lane. These horrific crashes used to kill a couple dozen people a year on I-70. So Missouri decided to invest in some simple cable median barriers that prevent out-of-control vehicles from ending up on the wrong side of the Interstate. Now, these types of crashes have been virtually eliminated. But there are still a lot more roads in Missouri. There are a lot more roads in the United States. We can make them safer. But it won’t just happen by itself, we have to make it a priority.

At the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety we initiated new research to understand why we remain so complacent. To that end, one of the major findings is that many drivers have a “Do as I say, not as I do attitude.” For example, 80% of respondents viewed distracted driving as a serious problem. But, 2 out of 3 of those same drivers said they used their phones while driving in the last month and of those and half said they knew it increases the likelihood of being in a crash. Each of us, must look in the mirror and honestly evaluate our own attitudes and behaviors, and not just always blame the other guy for all the problems. And, now more than ever, we should all get more involved in asking our Federal, state and local road authorities, regulators and legislators to increase efforts so that one day a zero death vision will be a reality.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Distracted Driving - Time to Start Addressing the Problem

The hot topic on the minds of transportation officials all across the country over the past few weeks has been the problem of distracted driving. With more and more states beginning to examine the possibility of proposing texting/emailing bans or complete cell phone bans, driver distraction has been pushed to the front of the transportation safety agenda.

The increased attention being given to distraction is reflected in the upcoming Distracted Driving Summit being hosted in Washington, DC by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The summit, to be held on Sept 30th-Oct 1st, will bring together senior transportation officials, elected officials, safety advocates and law enforcement to discuss the problem of driver distraction and how it can be addressed. The AAA Foundation will be involved with these proceedings as Senior Manager of Development Kristin Backstrom will share the foundation’s knowledge on the issue, including findings from this year’s AAA Foundation Traffic Safety Culture Index survey which found 80 percent of drivers agree that distracted driving is a serious threat to their safety, but 67% of drivers also admitted to talking on a cell phone while driving in the past month.

This “Do as I say, Not as I do” attitude is one of things we must change to push toward a positive culture of safety. As part of this effort, we are calling for all drivers to become a distraction-free driver during Heads Up Driving Week beginning October 5th. During that week, we would like to remind drivers of the risks from all types of distracting behaviors and encourage them to drive distraction free. We all need to examine our own driving habits and stop engaging in distracting behaviors behind the wheel. Help spread the message about the dangers of distracted driving and keep your Heads Up from October 5th-11th.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dangers of Distracted Driving

The dangers of distracted driving, especially those associated with emailing and texting while driving, have become hot issues after the recent release of new reports, including initial findings from our second annual Traffic Safety Culture Index survey. And, while I applaud efforts, such as the recently announced US DOT forum on distracted driving, let us not forget the bigger issue of changing the culture in this country. Specifically, our recent findings were that 90% of drivers believed drinking and driving was a serious threat to their safety, while 87% felt the same way about texting or emailing while driving. And, I believe, although we have not completely solved the drunk driving problem, we have made substantial progress, and we have changed the culture with respect to drinking and driving. It is no longer socially acceptable to “have one for the road,” and society has effectively stigmatized drinking and driving. In contrast, while 87% of our survey respondents believed texting and emailing while driving were serious threats, over 40% of drivers younger than 35 admitted to texting while driving during the last month (and about one if five of all drivers of all ages). And, unfortunately, our current culture seems to accept if not encourage these attitudes and behaviors. One death on our highways is unacceptable; one death every thirteen minutes is an outrage!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The True Risk Senior Drivers Pose

A series of recent traffic-related incidents in Massachusetts involving senior drivers have thrust the issues of senior licensing and the danger senior drivers pose on the road into the national spotlight. While these incidents were certainly tragic, the truth is that while seniors may appear to be a threat on the road they are actually less of a threat than you or I. In fact a recent AAA Foundation study that was published in the Journal of Safety Research analyzed government data on fatal crashes from 1999-2003 to estimate the risk that drivers of various ages would be involved in and be partially responsible for a fatal crash. The study revealed teenagers are the most at risk group to be involved in a fatal crash and that seniors, while they do pose some threat, are actually much more of risk to themselves then other drivers or pedestrians. Nevertheless, the study has confirmed that the risk of being involved in a fatal crash increases around age 65, and over 3,000 drivers in that age category are killed each year.

Ideally, getting a drivers’ license should be based on whether an individual has cognitive and physical functional abilities necessary to drive a car. There is no denying some of these abilities are affected with age, but this doesn’t mean senior drivers can’t maintain these abilities at the level necessary to drive. And, given the demographics associated with the baby boom, our society is getting older, and thus, now more than effort we need to emphasize the programs to extend the safe driving experience for older drivers. Fortunately, I am excited to announce that a new computer program (interactive game) called DriveSharp™ is now available that can do just that. The Drive Sharp program uses computer exercises to help seniors improve things such as divided attention, reaction time or “useful field of view” – factors that are directly correlated with being a safe driver. And, from my perspective, the most exciting aspect is that Drive Sharp has been shown to reduce the risk of at-fault crashes by up to 50%. For those seniors who want or need to improve their functional abilities needed to drive this is an outstanding tool. A free screening test and information on the program, including a free is available at