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Cars Are Safer than Ever, so Why Are More People Dying?

For years it’s been standard for new cars to come equipped with safety features like electronic stability control systems, anti-lock brakes and airbags. Today, many cars even come with backup cameras. But recent years have seen a substantial uptick in traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries, with 2016 being especially deadly.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), last year – for the first time in nearly a decade – more than 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes. That’s a six percent increase from 2015 and a 14 percent increase from 2014, making it the largest two-year jump in more than 50 years. In addition, more than four million drivers were injured seriously enough to require medical attention.

LHSFNA Management
Noel C. Borck

Lower gasoline prices and an improving economy resulted in more people driving to both work and leisure activities. However, according to an NSC survey, driver behavior and beliefs have more to do with crashes than how many miles were traveled. Because driving is such a common activity, many drivers don’t view it as potentially dangerous and ignore the enormous responsibility and risk that comes with getting behind the wheel. Many drivers also choose to engage in behaviors that they view as unsafe when done by other drivers (e.g., texting, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and driving while fatigued).

“Highway work zones are especially hazardous for motorists and workers, both of whom can be seriously injured or killed during a work zone intrusion,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “When motorists text or talk on the phone, choose to drive when they are tired or drive under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, they make the roads a more dangerous place for themselves and others.” On average, about 590 people, many of them construction workers, die in highway work zones every year.

Here are some key findings from the survey. If you can relate to any of these results, you are at risk for causing a crash and injuring yourself and others.

  • Texting: 47 percent of drivers believe it’s safe to send a text either manually or on a hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle. However, research indicates that even texting by voice can distract the driver for as long as 27 seconds after completing the task. At only 25 miles per hour, drivers cover the length of nearly three football fields during this time.
  • Drinking and Driving: 71 percent of drivers believe they can safely consume up to three alcoholic beverages before they are too impaired to drive. However, research shows that some drivers can be impaired when they have just one drink and a blood alcohol content (BAC) well below the legal limit of .08.
  • Sleep Deprivation: 33 percent of drivers believe driving on less than four hours of sleep is safe, yet research indicates that most people need between seven and eight hours of sleep to be fully alert.
  • Marijuana Use: 13 percent of those surveyed said they have gotten behind the wheel after using marijuana. However, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana, can slow reaction time because of its effects on coordination, memory and judgment.

Here are the realities of these behaviors:

  • Texting: Each day in the United States, eight people are killed and more than 1,100 are injured in crashes involving a driver who was texting or engaging in some other distracting behavior like talking on the phone or eating. Texting is particularly dangerous as it involves taking your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your mind off driving.
  • Drinking and Driving: Every day in the United States, 28 people die in crashes involving a driver who was alcohol-impaired. In 2014, drivers who were alcohol-impaired killed nearly 10,000 people.
  • Sleep Deprivation: It’s believed that more than 5,000 people died in drowsy-driving related crashes in 2015. According to the NSC, drivers who are fatigued are three times more likely to be involved in a crash and losing even two hours of sleep is similar to the effect of having three beers.
  • Marijuana Use: In states where marijuana is legal, fatal crashes involving its use are surging. In Washington, the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who recently used marijuana doubled from eight to 17 percent between 2013 and 2014. Though it’s not clear if marijuana was the primary cause of these fatal crashes, it is illegal and unsafe to drive while under the influence.

The NSC survey was conducted to raise awareness and encourage drivers to be more safety conscious, said NSC president and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman. “Most Americans recognize risky drivers on the roadways, but they are not adopting safer behaviors themselves.”

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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