Tag Archives: highway safety

Too Fast, Too Young

Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) chief actuary James Lynch brings us a cautionary tale from  the open road:

It’s a gritty drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco as I learned with my wife and older daughter this summer — a climb through dry mountains, then across the nation’s Salad Bowl, the San Joaquin Valley, passing strings of tractor-trailers headed up the interstate toward Sacramento and cow country.

Like most tourists, we left the trailers behind by turning west on state Route 46. My wife drove. We passed a thicket of oil derricks and, frankly, not much else. The roads were well-designed and well-kept. Everyone drove fast. Far off we saw the hills that would lead us to Highway 101 and north again.

We came upon what, for that desolate place, was a major intersection — a flashing yellow light and a lane that let oncoming traffic turn left in front of us. A line of cars waited to make that left. Daylight was fading, and it was hard to pick out exactly how many wanted to turn or whether any had begun to.

“That looks like a dangerous spot,” I said.

Then we saw the sign: James Dean Memorial Junction.

Yeah. Right there, 60 years ago — September 30, 1955 — actor James Dean was cruising maybe 85 in his Porsche Spyder when Donald Turnupseed turned left. In moments Dean went from an astounding actor (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant) to a roadside tragedy.

He wasn’t a teen-ager, but he was a teen idol squeezed between the Sinatra and Elvis eras, and now his case is one I can’t help but think of as that older daughter baby-steps toward her first license this fall.

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James Dean Memorial Junction still seems dodgy, but overall driving is much safer. The accident rate has fallen on average about 1 percent a year for decades. But long-term trends have statistical blips. We are in one now.

As we at the I.I.I. note in our Facts and Statistics on highway safety, traffic fatalities at mid-year are 14 percent higher than the same period last year, according to National Safety Council estimates. The economy has improved. People are driving more and perhaps less safely — faster, more texting.

The third week in October is National Teen Driver Safety Week, an event my daughter will be made well aware of, but this year we should all heed its message: Be careful behind the wheel.



Unbuckled and Unprotected

I.I.I.’s Jim Lynch brings us a timely reminder on why it’s important to buckle up:

I hate to write this: CBS newsman Bob Simon, who died February 11 in a Manhattan auto accident, was not wearing a seat belt, according to The New York Times.

Simon lately filled an elder statesman role on 60 Minutes, but his reporting career was one of globetrotting daredevilry. He covered America’s urban riots in 1968. He reported for six years from Vietnam and rode one of the last U.S. helicopters that left Saigon before the city fell in 1975. He was captured by Iraqi troops at the outset of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and was held prisoner for 40 days.

Simon died when the limousine in which he rode sideswiped a Mercedes in Manhattan, then hit a lane barrier.

Every death is a tragedy, an accidental death doubly so. Sadder still that a person who survived so much danger might well have survived this accident had he been wearing a seat belt. His driver had buckled up and survived; both of his legs were broken, as was an arm. The Mercedes driver was uninjured.

I.I.I.’s Facts and Statistics on highway safety points out that seatbelts saved more than 12,000 lives in 2012 and could have saved another 3,031, had everyone used them.

I ride in cabs and black cars fairly often and know it feels awkward to buckle up. The action seems to be a referendum against the driver, as if my action says I question the driver’s competence. And I feel weirdly invulnerable when I travel, as if tragedy can’t find me in the back seat.

Still, I always strap myself into the harness, and I wish Bob Simon had done so as well.

In 2011, 65 percent of New York taxi riders failed to buckle up, according to Taxi and Limousine Commission statistics reported in USA Today, vs. about 10 percent in private passenger vehicles. New York is one of 22 states that do not require cab riders to buckle up.

NHTSA: U.S. Traffic Deaths Up In 2012

An estimated 7,630 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the first quarter of 2012, a 13.5 percent increase on the same period of 2011, according to analysis from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the first three months of 2012 increased by about 9.7 billion miles. The fatality rate for the first quarter of 2012 increased significantly to 1.10 fatalities per 100 million VMT, up from 0.98 fatalities per 100 million VMT in the first quarter of 2011.

The NHTSA says it’s too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any increase in traffic deaths.

However, two key takeaways from the NHTSA report are:

– The historic downward trend in traffic fatalities in the past several years – a pattern which has continued through the early estimates for 2011 released recently that show deaths at a 60-year low – means any comparison will be to an unprecedented low baseline figure.

– The rate for the first quarter each year is traditionally significantly lower than the rates for the other three quarters, potentially due to, but not restricted to, the effects of winter weather. However, the winter of 2012 was also unseasonably warmer than usual in most areas of the country. Consequently, the fatality rate for the first quarter should not be used to make inferences for the fatality rate for the whole of 2012.

A report over at CNN.com quotes a safety expert at the Automobile Association of America (AAA) agreeing that the warmer winter weather may have contributed to higher vehicle miles traveled and ultimately more fatal crashes.

AAA also tells CNN that more work needs to be done to improve driver safety.

More facts and statistics on highway safety from the I.I.I.

Tax Day Road Risk

Be careful on the roads tomorrow.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that U.S. motorists are more prone to fatal road crashes on income tax deadline day than normal days.

Conducted by researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto and the University of Toronto, the study used road safety information for the U.S. from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for 30 years (1980 through 2009).

Researchers examined the number of fatal crashes on each tax deadline day as well as the same weekday one week before and after to control for prevailing risks.

They found that a total of 19,541 individuals were involved in fatal crashes during the 30 tax days and 60 control days. The 30 tax days accounted for 6,783 fatalities, equivalent to 226 per day. In contrast, the 60 control days accounted for 12,758 fatalities, equivalent to 213 per day.

The upshot: the risk of traffic fatality was 6 percent higher on income tax deadline day.

The increased risk on tax day included passengers and pedestrians and extended across different regions, daylight hours, demographic groups, and alcohol consumption.

In the words of Sunnybrook researcher Dr. Donald Redelmeier:

The increased risk could be the result of stressful deadlines leading to driver distraction and human error. Other possibilities might be more driving, sleep deprivation, lack of attention, and less tolerance toward hassles.†

According to the authors, these risks could be mitigated by some simple measures such as reminders about the importance of safe driving, such as the need to wear seatbelts, avoid excessive speed, minimize distractions and avoid alcohol.

More on this story at the Wall Street Journal’s Driver’s Seat blog.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on highway safety.