Passing Zone

Death on the Highway: Ignorance Kills

November 30, 2015

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Photo: Seeing Machines
Photo: Seeing Machines

Buried in the stats of accident reporting lies the unvarnished truth: Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance kills. It kills motorists and pedestrians and it kills truckers.

It kills drivers speeding in the fast lane or texting in the travel lane or Harvey Wallbanging in the granny lane or asleep at the wheel in whatever lane.

And it kills the other drivers, passengers and pedestrians that ignorance propelled those speeding, distracted, drunk or drowsy drivers into during the course of all too many fatal collisions.

But this ignorance is not the fault alone of the killers on our highways. It is all our fault, too.

The fault of all of us who do not take what steps we can to, at the very least, to educate others on what havoc their casually criminal attitude toward driving a motor vehicle on a public thoroughfare can wreak.

Even more so it is the fault of anyone who is in a position of authority, from parents of young motorists to employers of professional drivers, who do not do all they can to ensure those they are responsible for letting behind a wheel are fully cognizant of everything they need to know to be as safe a driver as humanly possible.

What got me going on this is the bad news that came with the good news in the latest numbers on U.S. traffic fatalities, reported on Nov. 24 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

While NHTSA recorded “a slight decline” in traffic deaths during 2014, the agency cautioned that an increase in estimated fatalities during the first six months of 2015 “reveals a need to reinvigorate the fight against deadly behavior on America's roads.”

NHTSA’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System figures for 2014 show 32,675 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2014. That’s a 0.1-percent drop from the year before. THt was enough of an improvement to bring the fatality rate down to a record low of 1.07 deaths per million vehicle miles traveled.

By contrast, the agency said estimates for the first six months of this year “show a troubling increase in the number of fatalities.”

Indeed, the 2015 fatality estimate is up a shuddering 8.1 percent from the same period a year ago— and the fatality rate rose by 4.4 percent. While NHTSA conceded that partial-year estimates are more volatile and subject to revision, it called the estimated increase “a troubling departure from a general downward trend.”

NHTSA speaks of “human behavioral issues that contribute to road deaths.”  Such deadly behaviors are familiar to all of us. The agency defines them as “drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving; speeding; and failure to use safety features such as seat belts and child seats.”

Based on the 2014 data, NHTSA said certain “trends remained stubbornly constant” including:

  • Deaths in drunk driving crashes continue to represent roughly one-third of fatalities
  • Approximately half of all vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts
  • Speeding was a factor in more than one in four deaths

The agency also pointed out that in 2014, distracted driving accounted for 10 percent of all crash fatalities, killing 3,179 people. Drowsy driving accounted for 2.6 percent of all crash fatalities, with at least 846 people killed in such crashes in 2014

Need a further convincer that ignorance kills? NHTSA said its research shows that in an estimated 94 percent of crashes, “the critical cause is a human factor” while vehicle-related factors are the critical reason in only about 2 percent of crashes.

“Behavioral safety programs are the heart of NHTSA's safety mission,” stated NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “While great public attention is focused on safety defects and recalls, and rightfully so, it is time as a nation to reinvigorate the fight against drunk and drugged driving, distraction and other risks that kill thousands every year."

If you want to read about fewer and fewer deaths on our highways, ask yourself what more you can you do to educate, inform, cajole, require-- to do whatever it takes-- to compel those you have entrusted with keys to be fully informed and soberly aware of the awesome responsibility that comes with driving down a road, whether it's just to pick up a carton of milk at the corner store or to haul a tanker of it across the country.

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David Cullen

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Executive Editor

Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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