Street Talk

Getting Behind The Wheel Is Still Risky

By Mickey Howley


Last Friday night there was a horrific automobile crash just half a block from my house on Blackmur. It was a two-car wreck. Three people total were in those two vehicles. Two died and one person was severely injured. I don’t know the reason for the accident. I’ll leave that to police to figure out the particulars. But if it was like nearly all accidents the mostly likely reason was driver error. Rarely is the reason anymore vehicle failure—brakes or steering going out.
If you read the statics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration you’ll see where deaths in or by motor vehicles are on the decrease. Last year for the first time ever since the NHTSA has been keeping records, motor vehicle fatalities are not in the top ten causes of deaths for Americans overall. Cars have become safer; most cars on the road now have anti-lock brakes and airbags. Crash survivability is built into the modern chassis. They are meant to collapse and crush and leave the passenger zone safe. Virtually every car on the road now has seatbelts—lap belts have been installed on every car since 1965 and three point belts since 1974. And mandatory seatbelts laws have driven belt usage to where a majority of drivers/passengers wear them all the time. That’s the good news.
The bad news is motor vehicle accidents are still the leading cause of death for ages 8 to 34. The simple fact is, getting behind the wheel of a car is the riskiest thing most people do every day, says Russ Radar, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
But since fatal crashes happen in “ones and twos” scattered across the country, the general public doesn’t realize their collective toll–about 110 people per day, nationwide. “If a hundred-seat airplane were crashing every day in the U.S., the air transportation system would be shut down with demands for the government to do something,” Radar says. “But that doesn’t happen with auto crashes.”
New vehicle technology has made cars safer, but there is a new technology that has made driving much more dangerous. The use of hand held devices (smart phones) while driving increases your chance of an accident by 23 times says the NHTSA.  Using your phone is that distracting. It’s like driving very drunk. The time of day plays an important role in fatal crashes; it is three times as dangerous to drive at night. The instances of drunk driving, speeding and driving without seatbelts all significantly increase during the night hours and each contributes directly to increased fatality rates.
None of this information will be of any comfort to the families of those in Friday night’s wreck. Because unlike dying of old age or a health issue, auto fatalities have a random chaos to them that seems so callous. But making sure accidents like this one don’t happen again is everyone’s responsibility.  So what can one do? Practice safety incrementally. Wear the seat belt always. Put the phone on silent and in the glove box.
Don’t speed excessively (okay we all go a little over) and especially slow down at night. Drive stone cold sober. Know the traffic laws and obey them. One always hears, “Accidents happen,” but I don’t buy that. There is always a reason and never a good one.

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