United States Road Safety Initiatives
For years, the number of injury-causing and fatal car accidents in the United States was on the decline. Unfortunately, this trend appears to be changing. Statistics indicate that the rate of car accidents is on the rise.
Between 2014 and 2015, the number of traffic accident fatalities increased by a staggering 7 percent. Early reports for 2016 indicate that the number of fatalities rose by an additional 8 percent.
Why Are Accidents on the Rise in the United States?
Many factors can contribute to a rise in car accidents across the nation. Drivers log more than 3 trillion miles on American roads every year. This number only goes up as the economy improves. With so many vehicles on the road, some accidents are bound to happen.
Heavy traffic isn’t the only reason car accidents are occurring more frequently. Studies have shown that driver behavior is changing. Factors that are increasingly responsible for causing traffic accidents include:
- Distracted driving
- Drunk driving
- Fatigued driving
- Aggressive driving, and
States across the country are responding to the increase in fatal car accidents. Many communities have made it a priority to embrace safety initiatives designed to prevent dangerous driving behaviors.
Vision Zero initiatives have been embraced by various states and the federal government. These safety programs are designed to eliminate traffic accident fatalities completely. Some programs are specific to pedestrian and bicyclist deaths, while other programs are more expansive.
Road to Zero
Road to Zero is a federal initiative to end traffic fatalities in the United States by 2050. The initiative, launched by the National Safety Council, has three primary focuses.
- Adopt safe systems approach and create a positive safety culture.
- Embrace life-saving technology.
- Commit to safety programs that have a proven track record of success.
Road to Zero not only focuses on embracing safe technology and changes to infrastructure, but also engaging the public and cultivating a “societal demand for safe roads.”
Traffic Safety Laws: Road to Zero focuses on strengthening traffic safety laws across the country. The NSC is committed to providing funds to government agencies, traffic safety researchers, and infrastructure engineers to make this accelerate significant change.
Developing Technology: The NSC realizes that technology has helped to reduce the overall number of traffic accident injuries and fatalities in recent decades. In 2011, there were 11,300 fewer car accident deaths than in 1985. This is attributed, in part, to advances in vehicular technology. Advances in technology will be essential to end traffic accident fatalities.
Safety Culture: Changing laws and securing life-saving technology won’t be enough, on their own, to eliminate traffic deaths. Road to Zero acknowledges that drivers must be included in the plan. Education will be a key component in carrying out the Road to Zero vision.
Cell Phone Bans
Distracted driving is a leading cause of traffic accident deaths in the United States. According to the CDC, 9 people are killed and another 1,000 are injured because of distracted drivers every day. Approximately 25 percent of car accidents involve a distracted driver.
Cell phones are particularly problematic. Research suggests that it takes the average driver 5 seconds to send a text or check their phone. During this time, a car traveling 55 MPH can drive the length of a football field. That’s a lot of time to have your eyes diverted from the road. The risk of an accident while texting is 23 times greater than when you’re paying attention to the road.
Many states have passed legislation to outlaw or restrict the use of cell phones while driving.
Texting Ban: Texting and driving is currently prohibited by law in 47 states. Only Arizona and Montana have no such ban. Missouri bans texting for drivers under the age of 21.
Hands-Free Laws: 16 states, including California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, and Oregon, currently ban the hand-held use of cell phones while driving. Cell phones can only be used with headsets and hands-free devices. Several states delegate cell phone laws to local communities.
Total Ban: No state has a law that prohibits all drivers from using a cell phone in some capacity. However, some states have passed laws to limit who can use a phone behind the wheel. These total bans typically apply to school bus drivers, teenagers, and permit holders.
Cell phone laws are typically classified as “primary” or “secondary” offenses. A primary offense means that a driver can be pulled over for violating the cell phone law. A second offense means that drivers must commit some other traffic infraction before they can be cited for a violation of the state’s cell phone law.
Dram Shop Liability
Drunk driving has always been problematic in the United States. Every year, millions of drivers are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Unfortunately, these drivers are still responsible for thousands of fatal car accidents.
Drunk driving laws have been around for decades. It’s illegal in every state to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) equal to or above .08 percent. However, drivers still get behind the wheel. Alcohol impairs reasoning and thought. Drivers often (incorrectly) believe that they’re perfectly capable of driving.
Many states have passed laws that impose liability on individuals who allow drivers to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. These are known as dram shop liability laws. Dram shop laws essentially say that bartenders, restaurants, store owners, and party hosts can be liable for injuries and harm caused by drunk drivers.
The laws encourage the safe distribution of alcohol. If a bartender knows that they may be responsible for the actions of a drunk driver, they may be more inclined to keep a close eye on how much they drink. If a person has too much, restaurant owners or party hosts will be more likely to take their keys and/or call a cab for safe transport.
Zero Tolerance Laws
Kids and teens are always in a hurry to grow up. Drinking is typically considered to be a very “adult” activity. Young people will drink to prove that they’re mature and independent. Unfortunately, teens are less capable of metabolizing and processing alcohol than adults. A teenager with alcohol in their system is generally more dangerous than an adult.
States across the country have embraced Zero Tolerance laws to combat teen drinking and driving. Zero Tolerance laws make it a crime for anyone under the age of 21 to drive with any trace of alcohol in their system. The penalties are often more severe for drunk drivers under the age of 18.
Following Too Closely Laws
Aggressive driving contributes to a significant number of car accidents every year. Drivers become impatient behind the wheel and resort to behaviors that put themselves and others in harm’s way. One behavior in particular – following the vehicle in front of you too closely – is a factor in most rear-end crashes. Rear-end crashes are the most common type of collision, accounting for approximately 30 percent of all accidents.
Lawmakers across the country have taken steps to prevent this dangerous driving behavior. State laws now regulate tailgating and how much space drivers must leave between vehicles. Most laws, including those in Georgia, New York, and California, prohibit drivers from following another vehicle “more closely than is reasonable and prudent.”
What’s reasonable and prudent? It’s subjective and depends on the factors relevant to each situation. These can include traffic, weather, and speed. Some states also provide guidelines to help drivers better understand how much of a cushion they should leave between cars. In California, for example, the DMV suggests leaving a stopping distance of no less than 3 seconds.
Federal, state, and local governments are embracing traffic safety laws and initiatives designed to limit car and traffic accidents and make roads safer. Research is essential to understanding:
- Why accidents happen, and
- How accidents can be reduced.
The better a governing agency can understand the underlying causes of traffic accidents, the better it can formulate solutions.