Distracted Driving Awareness Month is every April, but we constantly need to be talking about how to keep our roads a little bit safer. The total number of deaths caused by road traffic accidents in 2020 was 38,824—which is far too many. I believe the solution to this problem is three-fold—and that everyone in industry, academia, and government need to work together to solve this together.
My interest was especially piqued when a report crossed my desk about the most dangerous state to drive in and my new home state—South Carolina—was near the top of the list.
The research conducted by personal injury lawyers We Win analyzed the number of deaths per 100,000 people and the number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2020. An index score out of 10 was given to each state in order to determine a ranking of the most dangerous states to drive in the United States. The lower the score, the more dangerous the state.
The top five states are Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Montana, and New Mexico. Here in South Carolina, we experience 20.7 deaths for every 100,000 people along with the highest number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles at 1.97.
The bottomline is we have a responsibility to lower the number of deaths on the roads—and I believe the solution is three-fold: infrastructure, connected cars, and education. This will require construction, manufacturing, technology, academia, and government to all come together to build a safer tomorrow. Let’s take a look at each of the areas.
The reality is our roads aren’t safe for a number of reasons—one of which is our infrastructure. According to the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, our roads received a grade of a D. Roughly 40% of the system is now in poor or mediocre condition, according to the report.
The organization suggests the solution comes in the form of improving and preserving roadway conditions that increase public safety on the system we have in place, as well as plan for the roadways of the future, which will need to account for connected and autonomous vehicles.
The good news is the federal government passed the IIJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) in November 2021, which provides $1.2 trillion to rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and rails; expand access to clean drinking water; ensure every American has access to high-speed internet; invest in passenger rail; build a national network of EV (electric vehicle) chargers; upgrade our power infrastructure; and much more.
Now is the time for the construction industry and the technology community to come together to build smart infrastructure and smart cities. We have access to nearly every data point we need to make driving in our cities more convenient and safer. The next step will be taking all the advances with technology and using it to help make a real impact—like bringing those roadway deaths closer to zero.
The next pillar is autonomous vehicles—and there is considerable debate whether autonomous vehicles will make our roads safer or more dangerous. Mainstream media tends to hype up the headlines about the autonomous vehicles that end up in car crashes—but the reality is humans end up in car crashes too. If there is a way for technology in vehicles to make our roads a little bit safer, we need to explore our options.
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.) suggests the continuing evolution of automotive technology, including driver assistance technologies and automated driving systems, aim to deliver even greater safety benefits. Consider this: Higher levels of automation remove the human driver from the chain of events that can lead to a crash—something not yet available to the average consumer but could provide myriad benefits.
What is available to consumers today is active safety systems. These are types of advanced driver assistance systems, which provide lower levels of automation that can assist a driver by anticipating imminent dangers and working to avoid them. All in all, these technologies will help protect drivers and passengers, as well as bicyclists and pedestrians—if we ensure they are safe and secure.
Perhaps one of the biggest things we can do to reduce roadway deaths is through education efforts. We can remind our friends and family not to drive distracted. We can commit to distracted free driving in our businesses and in our homes. We can create learning programs for our coworkers about the dangers of distracted driving—and we can create business policies that discourage the use of devices while on the road.
At the end of the day, if we all come together, we can all make the roads a little bit safer. What are you doing today to minimize distracted driving in your community?
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