I love the ambition by many organizations to end roadway deaths in the United States by 2050, but is that a realistic goal? How close are we to reaching that goal? And what still needs to be done to get there?
Earlier this month the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.) released the Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Quarter of 2021. NHTSA estimates 8,730 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the first three months of 2021, a 10.5% increase from the 7,900 fatalities the agency projected for the first quarter of 2020. It looks like we are trending in the wrong direction.
As I have stated before, fatalities rose, as driving declined. Preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Admin., show VMT (vehicle miles traveled) in the first three months of 2021 decreased by 2.1%, or about 14.9 billion miles. The trend that began in 2020 appears to be continuing in 2021. Quite simply, the drivers that remain on the roads are engaging in more risky behavior.
To help, the NHTSA recently released the 10th edition of Countermeasures That Work, which is a report that supports a proactive, equitable safe systems approach to eliminating fatalities on our nation’s roads. It also addresses the safety of all road users, including those who walk, bike, and drive.
The GHSA (Governors Highway Safety Assn.) also says State Highway Safety Offices are working with their partners to ramp up countermeasures—such as high-visibility enforcement of life-saving traffic laws—which will help. The GHSA also says we must use every available tool—including equitable enforcement, community outreach, and infrastructure improvements—to address this problem.
The 10 program areas covered in this edition of Countermeasures That Work are alcohol- and drug-impaired driving, bicycle safety, distracted driving, drowsy driving, motorcycle safety, older drivers, pedestrian safety, seat belts and child restraints, speeding and speed management, and young drivers. The report includes a look at how each issue impacts our society, and proven strategies for communities to consider in addressing these specific concerns.
Here are a few examples of countermeasures. Chapter 4 highlights the distracted driving countermeasure: employer programs for distracted driving while chapter 6 looks into the young driver countermeasure: electronic technology for parental monitoring. These are just a few solutions to long, overdue problems.
What I like here is the very thing often creating the problem—smartphones—can also be part of the solution. Technology isn’t inherently good or bad; rather it is how we use it. As I always say, with great technology comes great responsibility. There is no place this is as true as in the car and on the roads.
In fact, I am certain my comments here are not going to be very popular with folks like James Corbin. Corbin pretty much became a late-night sensation with his Carpool Karaoke featuring videos of famous celebrities. Let’s be honest, the idea of famous people getting in his car as he’s driving and goofing off while behind the wheel of what can be turned into 1.5 ton-killing machine as he’s jumping around singing and doing all sorts of ridiculous things rather than paying attention to the task at hand—and that’s driving.
This clearly sends the wrong message to every young driver. But here’s the point. It’s that influence that should be held accountable. It’s not just that we need technology to help manage the problem. We need responsible leaders of influence so that drivers think and act responsibly.
Corbin and everyone who joined him should realize the damage they have caused in sending a deadly message to the next generation of drivers or to anyone who doesn’t realize a simple text and glance away from the windshield can create a chain reaction that will change people’s lives forever.
We need to remind drivers that it’s imperative to keep our hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. When 8,730 people are killed, it’s time to stop singing and start focusing on the road ahead.
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