What will it take to make a significant reduction in the number of people who die on our roads?

Today, I watched some of  the live streaming of NHTSA’s conference, Driving Behavioral Change in Traffic Safety. As I listened to the various speakers and panel discussions, many thoughts and questions went through my mind. . .

Driving Behavioral Change in Traffic Safety Conference being Livestreamed at DOT

The basic question is: What will it take to make a significant reduction in the number of people who die on our roads?

  • It will take all of us working together.
  • It will take facing the problem head on.
  • It will take acknowledging that there is a problem–and the full extent of it.
  • It will take recognizing that we are all a part of the problem.
  • It will take talking about it openly.
  • It will take understanding that crash deaths are not just an expected risk of driving on the road but are to a great extent preventable.
  • It will take accepting that risky driver behavior is not a personal right but a violation of other people’s right to be protected from reckless behavior.
  • It will take calling risky driver behavior what it is: RECKLESS.
  • It will take classifying a vehicle as a weapon and reckless driver behavior as an act of violence.
  • It will take enacting laws that prohibit a full range of reckless driving behaviors and then enforcing those laws with stiff consequences.
  • It will take understanding  that changing personal behavior is not the only way to reduce crash deaths and learning how to work with others who are addressing vehicle and environment risk factors.
  • It will take recognizing and embracing that preventing crashes from happening is not the only thing which needs to be addressed but that we can also reduce the severity of those crashes so that death is not the end result.
  • It will take manufacturers and employers and consumers and law enforcement and engineers and countless others to recognize how their individual decisions and actions contribute to not just crash statistics but to the unnatural ending (or saving) of life for people with names and faces and hopes and dreams and other people who care about them whose lives will be changed forever.
  • And it will take us all realizing that someday soon one of those names and faces could very well be ourselves or someone whom we love and will miss dreadfully. And that it could have been prevented.
  • It will take listening to the hundreds of thousands of families who have lost loved ones due to traffic crashes and apologizing, as a society, for letting them down–for not addressing it as the priority it should be. Bringing healing and hope that their frustrations and anger and grief are being heard and that their petitions for change are being taken seriously. Giving them a voice and channeling their zealous energy in positive ways which can in fact be a powerful tool for changing the future and moving us more surely Toward Zero Crash Deaths, Serious Injuries, and Fear of Traffic.
  • And beyond that, I firmly believe that, in order to move as a nation Toward a Vision of Zero Crash Deaths, it will take take a commitment to a National Vision Zero Goal and a coordinated endeavor of government, private industry, workers of every skill imaginable, and informed citizens. Anything short of this will be disjointed and less effective, which translates into — not simply unmet project goals but — people dying. It is not an impossible dream but it will require sacrifice and will be well worth the effort.

I kept writing down  ideas as they came to me during the various presentations and discussions and emailing them to the event coordinator. I did not hear my questions being addressed. But I am going to record them (in their raw intensity) here:

After losing my 2 youngest daughters, AnnaLeah (17) and Mary (13), due to a truck underride crash on May 4, 2013, I have been calling for a National Vision Zero Goal (along with over 20,000 Vision Zero Petition Signers):
Rebekah photo of crash
I am asking President Obama to:
  1. Set a National Vision Zero Goal (it is not listed as an issue on whitehouse.gov)
  2. Establish a White House Vision Zero Task Force
  3. Sign a Vision Zero Executive Order to authorize Vision Zero Rulemaking Policies
These are the questions which I have been sending to the event coordinator today:
  1. What are you doing to address the reality (which I learned in 1979 at the University of Michigan/School of Public Health,Health Behavior/Health Education) that fear is not always the best motivator? The attitude that “it will never happen to me”?
  2. Will the addition of more and more technology for collision avoidance give people the false idea that they don’t have to pay as much attention, i.e., counteract attempts to focus on driver behavior?
  3. How many lives would be saved if the 319 proven safety standards/laws which are not being adopted by states were mandated? http://annaleahmary.com/2016/01/why-on-earth-dont-we-establish-national-traffic-safety-standards-require-them-to-be-adopted-by-states/
  4. Drunk driving is one thing.  What about stopping people for texting or using their cell phones while driving?
  5. What about drowsy driving? Are there ways for it to become something which can be included in traffic enforcement? DWF Driving While Fatigued.
  6. How about an equivalent of Volunteer Firefighters? Can we train and deputize citizens to pull over unsafe drivers?
  7. For motor vehicle-related injury prevention. What about Second Collision problems? Like auto safety defects or truck UNDERRIDE deaths and serious injuries? Is the Task Force addressing this? What role could they play to prevent these preventable deaths?
  8. Not only does traffic safety involve the driver, vehicles, and environmental factors, but it does so in three phases–pre-event, event, and post event. Every one of these factors can be addressed to prevent or reduce the severity of the event. Remember Dr. Haddon’s matrix which Adrian Lund (IIHS) shared (similar to this one, Haddon Matrix) (also, see Care for Crash Victims): 
  9. How about requiring driver training programs to set up volunteer coaches or mentors for drivers with permits to aid parents in this vital life skill development?
  10. How about change DMV written tests for driver license and renewal? Ours in NC was FULL of numbers and statistics regarding DUI consequences . How about make it more graphic and stick-in-the mind friendly? I spent my time preparing for it by memorizing numbers.
  11. Take a tip from 1954 and Jimmy Stewart. Start training at elementary level only update it to use the technology that the youngest generation is immersed in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj9Iuxw2_wk

    How about design electronic games to raise awareness and teach safe driving behavior?
  12. How about clear up the confusion about whether Marijuana IMPAIRS driving?
  13.  How can we find ways to remind people that driving choices can lead to forever results? Find ways to touch not only the head but the heart.

    Never Come Back Once a loved

    one becomes a motor vehicle crash statistic, it will be too late–they will

    Towards Zero; There’s no one someone won’t miss https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsyvrkEjoXI
  14.  How about using interactive learning methods of raising awareness?

    When I interviewed my 9 and 6 year-old grandchildren about how they thought underride guards could be stronger, they showed amazing awareness and creativity.
    Put people in situations where they are faced with thinking through the results of driving choices and also purchase of safe equipment and increase their demand for affordable safer vehicles from the automotive industry.


    In group settings. In game apps. Make use of church youth groups to address these issues.
  15.  REQUIRE phone manufacturers to advertise safe driving behavior
  16. Why not set a National Vision Zero Goal to raise American awareness?

    People need to know that Death by Motor Vehicle is a preventable problem but it will take us all to work together to defeat it.
    They should be just as concerned, if not more, about the Violent Weapon of Destruction that is put into the hands of drivers everywhere 24/7.
  17. What about the use of more electronic road signs to alert drivers to upcoming traffic situations? And more things like rumble strips?
  18. People need to know that they are not in control so that their driving behavior reflects that knowledge.

    Use Cass Sunstein’s idea for example for phone usage. Default Setting. Turned off when in a moving vehicle. Not sure if that is technologically possible but something like that.
    Default RULE/traffic law. If caught texting or talking on cell phone while driving, get a point on record.
    Set up a  Consequence. Have their TICKET posted on social media.
    Loss of Reputation/Respect.
  19. Make salient and visible  How can we give visibility nationally and locally the extent of the Traffic Safety Problem?
  20. Electronic signs on highway to alert drivers to traffic conditions
  21. Choice architecture: use existing social groups to create localized indication of traffic safety norms, church youth groups, MOPS groups, Preschool parent groups LET them hear from families of crash victims. Give these people visibility.
  22. Savings of not losing a loved one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsyvrkEjoXI
  23. Can we get TRAFFIC SAFETY as an issue on whitehouse.gov?
  24. Can we get President Obama to set a Vision Zero Goal, establish a White House Vision Zero Task Force which would include an interdisciplinary group, and sign a Vision Zero Executive Order?
  25. Have we made Vision Zero a National Priority? http://annaleahmary.com/2016/03/tell-obama-you-are-standing-with-us-in-this-family-continues-fight-for-trucking-safety/
  26. Why not set up Community Vision Zero Activist Groups?
  27. Are there strategies raising awareness about MICROSLEEP?
  28. MAKE IT A NATIONAL Vision Zero Goal!!!! Apply the resources.

  29. Put a face to the problem!!!!! Let the victims and their families be honored and remembered on a regular basis. We are ALL vulnerable.
    Create a National Vision Zero Goal using social media and modern technology.
    I know someone who could design immersive reality simulation models to show immediate negative consequences of reckless driver behavior choices (as suggested by Dr. David Abrams).
  30. Could this group of people gathered together in Washington at this conference please, please, please call upon President Obama to set a National Vision Zero Goal, establish a Vision Zero Task Force, and sign a Vision Zero Executive Order? If he does not do those things, who else will lead us in such a United Effort? Without such a vision, the people will indeed perish.

2 thoughts on “What will it take to make a significant reduction in the number of people who die on our roads?

  1. Dr., Hedlund, thank you for participation in NHTSA’s conference on driver behavior change 3/10/16.

    A few thoughts:

    Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: County Health Rankings


    Purpose of insurance,

    Expected value,

    Insurance: big bucks to advertising, nothing to prevention or safety education,

    Financial literacy,

    Citizen Advisory Groups,

    Identify dangerous locations,

    Vision Zero captured by law enforcement, find a better name and a better concept.

    Too many times the answer is ” meets the spec”. The spec is incomplete. End of conversation,

    OIRA good concept. Executive Branches treat it as a “check the block” drill, EO 12866, OMB Circular A-4

    Statistical outliers and presentation of statistics. Yep, here’s California right after Arkansas, and before Colorado. But where does California rank by deaths per mile?

    Definition of health, measure of health? Years of potential life lost? Health problems in each county, ranked by the county? Not by how much grant money is available.

    Enforcement means engineering and education are incomplete. Mismatch between road, car and driver. Don’t tell me you told me unless you told me in words I understand.

    Zero enforcement as a goal.

    Lots of time, effort and publicity on Takata inflators. Nothing on preventing DUI. Perception? Solve air bags, ignore DUI. Thanks, media.

    Sixth grade driver education by parents. Johnny, will the light be red or green when we get to the decision point? What is that driver trying to do? Is your life belt fastened? Where will we be turning? Can you spot a parking space? What sort of egg drop protection did you devise in your science class?


    Jeremy’s grandfather

    9953 Gary Drive

    Browns Valley, CA 95918

    530 639 2360

  2. Bravissima!

    We also need to ask:

    * Why President Obama has not done so yet?

    * Why has Secretary Clinton talked about gun violence but not vehicle violence?

    * Why is there this strange indifference to highway carnage?
    See article and comments at

    This current activity by NHTSA to focus on behavioral issues is just the latest in a century of “blame the victim” rather than the automotive industry.

    Where there is no vision, the people perish. See

    We need campaign finance reform to change the current situation where Presidents suffer from the “Zero Vision” malady: None are so blind as those that will not see.

    Keep up the great work Marianne!

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