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News of the Road – Traffic Safety – 11/24/09

November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving week always brings extra media attention to all forms of travel.  From statistics about the average drive and how the recession and gas prices will keep people off the road, to the tradition of interviewing the family in the airport that will  miss their trip to Grandma’s/Aunt Judy’s/Disney World because of delays.

NPR is doing something unique.  They are taking the opportunity to take a larger look at the road system, particularly from the standpoint of safety.   It’s an interesting take.  Road safety is discussed, but rarely from a systemic point of view.  All too often the discussion focuses on one topic, which when isolated does not paint an accurate picture.

I highly recommend that you check out the NPR piece, which seems to be expanding over the course of the week.

So does the NPR piece, at this point, cover all the bases?  Read more to see what Every Road Taken thinks.

As stated above, the NPR piece is a unique and comprehensive look at road safety.  A segment, about road construction was especially interesting.  That said, it seems that NPR is missing the heart of the issue – vehicle operators.

We all are reluctant to blame people for collisions.  Unless they are drinking or texting we find ways to put a crash in more gentle terms; the most common word for the even, accident, immediately absolves the operator from the event itself.  Unfortunately, the large majority of crashes are the result of operator error but the lack of recognition of this problem will result in the problem never being solved.

Do road construction and conditions contribute to collisions?  Of course.  But even ancient roads were designed for vehicles with performance factors exponentially lower than even the most basic vehicle on the road today.  With this extreme increase in the minimum level of performance and unfathomable safety gains, one would expect to see a corresponding decrease in the fatality rate.  Unfortunately this has not occurred.  According to there has been virtually no improvement in the number of fatalities (per capita) in the United States since 1992.  Additionally, in 2001, 11 individual States have a HIGHER number of per capita fatalities than the worst performing country studies(  Most sobering is that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death of individuals aged 1-29.

So vehicle performance is not the issue and vehicle safety is not the issue, but the problem is not solved.  The one thing that has not substantially change in 50 years is drivers training.  Yes the depth and breadth of drivers training has improved, but we are still woefully under trained compared with the rest of the developing world.  Though we commonly think of teenagers are being the most under-trained (they are) no additional training is provided as we age.  The result is how people drive as teenagers is not substantially improved over time.  Allowing “on the job training” with a two ton machine is ludicrous.

The solution? Unfortunately, they won’t be popular.  Increased driver training, graduated licenses, regular retesting, and more aggressive enforcement of existing traffic laws (beyond speeding to include things such as failure to signal when changing lanes, riding in the left lane when not passing, etc.).

So what are your thoughts?  How would you reduce the number of traffic fatalities/vehicle collisions?  Post away in the comments.

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