The other evening, my wife and I were returning from dropping our youngest daughter off for her first week of college. The last leg of the bittersweet journey took us on a busy four lane road, interspersed with mall entrance intersections. While I was behind the wheel, my wife contemplated the upcoming projects us empty-nesters had. Suddenly. an oncoming vehicle careened over the median and slammed into the vehicle right in front of us. We came to a stop, I jumped out to see if I could help, as others did, while my wife called 911.
Thankfully, no one was killed. The victim of the car in front was taken away on a stretcher with leg and chest injuries, while the driver of the oncoming vehicle got into the ambulance under her own power, clearly shaken. The cause was unclear. When I got to the victim she was shouting to me, “Did you see that?! That car came out of no where and just hit me! It just jumped the median and hit me!” Something of a freak scenario that could have ended tragically.
In the last couple of years alone, tragedy has struck numerous times on the roads right here in our own community. A teen driving with her father as passenger were both killed in an intersection collision. Then my daughter’s close friend lost her mother in a horrific drunk driver collision. Both families dealt a life changing blow that no one should ever have to endure. Statistics and data about serious accidents can sometimes seem abstract, while drivers feel invincible, making riskier decisions. Don’t think for a second those decisions don’t matter.
"We are in the midst of a public health crisis and it isn't Zika," says Deborah Hersman, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and now president and CEO of the National Safety Council. She breaks those numbers down, saying it's about 100 people killed on our roads a day, "the equivalent of two regional jets crashing, every day. That would be 14 plane crashes a week," she says. "If we had 14 plane crashes a week, our hair would be on fire and no one would set foot on an airplane," Hersman adds. "Why do we accept the fatalities that occur on our roadways?”
You may have noticed I have purposely avoided the word, “accident.” That’s because "Ninety-four percent of crashes can be tied back to a human choice or error. Ninety-four percent!" says Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. After our near collision, my wife and I pondered our own mortality, feeling lucky that just seconds made the difference from us being the victims. But it wasn’t just luck.
The reason we weren’t in the crash was also the result of daily safe driving practices I have had the good fortune to learn and help develop with some of the best in fleet safety. I was intentionally looking far enough up the road, so I saw what was happening as it unfolded. I was following the car in front of me at a safe distance, so I had room to slow and consider my options as the offending vehicle approached. We drove away, not by luck, but by making smart choices so we were not one of the statistics.
There is no one solution to this crisis. Like anything in life, it’s a matter of percentages. Much attention is given to traffic incidents caused by distracted driving. However, the National Highway Traffic Association report fewer driver-distraction deaths in 2016 than 2015, while overall fatalities are about the same. Drowsy driving deaths are also down, while drunk driving and unbelted deaths are up.
Though autonomous cars are coming, they are still a few years away, even according to the major manufacturers that are leading the way. Hyundai feels autonomous cars won’t be able to handle urban environments until 2030, for example. That means that driver behavior is still the main reason for collisions today and the foreseeable future.
Today, technology in vehicles is playing a role in lowering the number and severity of incidents. From airbags and anti-lock brakes, to the more current in-car safety systems such as backing camera’s and lane departure alarms. Vehicle manufacturers, the insurance industry, connectivity and tech companies, are providing safety related choices when the public buys a vehicle.
I’ll continue to share stories and insights about the choices you have now as they relate to the auto, tech, insurance, and driver safety industry. There is no silver bullet, and until technology turns all travel into mass transit thru GPS guided robotics, you will have to take control of your safety at every turn.
About the author: For 25 years, Bob Maraist has kept a finger on the pulse of the fleet and consumer driving industry, especially as it relates to safety. With experts in the field, his company, World View Productions, has created successful driver training materials helping fortune 500 companies see more than a 70% decrease in incidents in their first year of a safety campaign.