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. . .
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):
Set a National Vision Zero Goal (it is not listed as an issue on whitehouse.gov)
Establish a White House Vision Zero Task Force
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:
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”?
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?
How about an equivalent of Volunteer Firefighters? Can we train and deputize citizens to pull over unsafe drivers?
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?
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):
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?
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.
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.
REQUIRE phone manufacturers to advertise safe driving behavior
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.
What about the use of more electronic road signs to alert drivers to upcoming traffic situations? And more things like rumble strips?
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.
ILLUSION OF CONTROL
Make salient and visible How can we give visibility nationally and locally the extent of the Traffic Safety Problem?
Electronic signs on highway to alert drivers to traffic conditions
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.
Why not set up Community Vision Zero Activist Groups?
Are there strategies raising awareness about MICROSLEEP?
MAKE IT A NATIONAL Vision Zero Goal!!!! Apply the resources.
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).
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.
When I found out that NHTSA was holding a Driving Behavioral Change in Traffic Safety conference, I asked if they were going to be livestreaming this important event. The event coordinator said they would be and that she would let me know details when they were available.
Here is that information:
Thank you for your interest in the Driving Behavioral Change in Traffic Safety conference that is taking place Thursday, March 10 and Friday, March 11 in Washington. The event will run from 8:30 – 4:30on Thursday and from 8:30 – Noon on Friday.
I also asked if it would be taped and made available online. Here is the answer: The plan is for them to be recorded and posted after the event. Our technical team tells me that they should be up Friday afternoon at the latest.
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is announcing a meeting that will be held in Washington, DC on March 10-11, 2016 to explore ways to promote evidence-based behavior change in a traffic safety setting.
“The Driving Behavioral Change in Traffic Safety workshop will include presentations and discussions on a number of topics including analysis and feasibility of using different approaches to changing behavior; exploring promising untested strategies; identifying long-term pathways to eliminate fatalities; and considering how evidence-based behavior change strategies can be used in the broader policy discussion.
“Attendance at the meeting is limited to invited participants because of space limitations of the DOT Conference Center. However, the meeting will be available for live public viewing on the NHTSA Web site (www.nhtsa.gov).” Meetings: Driving Behavioral Change in Traffic Safety
Sounds promising. . . I hope to see meaningful results which can be widely-dispersed. And focused on while also addressing environmental and vehicular causes of traffic deaths.
Note: While taking classes at the University of Michigan in 1979 for my Master of Public Health degree in Health Behavior & Health Education, one of the things I learned, which has stuck with me, is that fear is not always the best motivator for changing behavior. In other words, knowing that something you do could end your life or that of someone else doesn’t necessarily change our actions. It doesn’t always sink in.
That needs to be kept in mind as we attempt to encourage better driving behavior.
You can do it! Ignore your phone until you can safely answer it. Mary recorded herself for my ringtone. She wanted to be famous. While she might not have died from distracted driving (we don’t know what made the truck driver crash into our car), I think that she would have liked to be known for helping others to drive more safely.
Making the transmission automatic took a step out of the driving process, and in exchange, drivers lost touch with the reality of what driving is: shoving a 4,000 lb brick through space with consequences. Driving while doing something else isn’t like letting go of your handlebars while riding a bike. It’s like operating a missile without paying attention to where it’s going.
And while advances in car technology have made vehicles safer, those same advances have also made cars bubbles of infotainment with texting, calls and Facebook at hand. In 2013, 424,000 people were injured in “distracted driving accidents”, up from 421,000 people the year before, and 10% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the accident.
People who “grew up in the automotive industry or have this passion for vehicles – those are the guys that are driving manuals,” says Petrovski. “Everyone else is more in tune with what’s happening on their iPhones. They’re texting and driving. That’s pretty tough to do on a manual.”
Let’s make sure that we are not always pointing our finger at someone else to take the blame for highway safety. Make sure that you are not driving impaired in any way, shape, or form: DISTRACTED, DRUNK, DRUGGED, or DROWSY (DWF)!
And, if you can do something to make trucks safer–whether you are a legislator, a government regulator, a truck driver, a trucking industry executive, or a voting/driving member of this country–do it!
Give the gift of LIFE–help prevent a crash fatality!
Mary loved to give a gift–whether it was her infectious smile, a bouquet of flowers, or an invitation to have some fun!
Remember AnnaLeah and Mary–and all those countless others who have lost their lives on the roads–and give the gift of life.
I have been thinking about this for some time now. Having lost my two youngest daughters, AnnaLeah (17) and Mary (13), two years ago due to a truck crash, I have thought a lot about things like drowsy driving and distracted driving. What it has gotten me to also do is think a lot about the answer to these problems.
Actually, I don’t think that there is just one answer to decreasing these behaviors that are all-too-often resulting in people dying. I think that the answer lies in a combination of personal and social responsibility.
Yes, people need to wake up and realize that they could be the next one responsible for someone dying. Not that they would have ever meant to. Not intentionally. But a behavior that could have been avoided is reckless when it leads to a death that could have been prevented.
Unfortunately, the law is not so easily changed to reflect that and so, all-too-often, there is not a legal deterrent with teeth to change behavior–in time to make a difference for someone’s loved one. Distracted driving and drowsy driving are not usually defined as RECKLESS and therefore do not receive a stiff penalty. (After all, it could be me or someone I know that could end up in jail.) I wrote about this in great detail here: http://annaleahmary.com/2014/08/law-enforcement-with-justice-for-all-balancing-truth-love/
Yet, I have also given much thought to the fact that it is foolish to put all of our eggs in one basket and depend on the individual to always do the right thing. This is why it is also important to address this as a social issue with multiple solutions, including changing laws, law enforcement, safety technology, and holding the manufacturers of products accountable for doing their part to make us all safer on the road.
I have not actually delved into the possibilities very thoroughly. But I want to throw out this question: Should the producers of electronic communication devices bear some responsibility for innovatively contributing to making them less easily abused when it comes to matters of life and death?
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. I don’t know if we will ever know what kind of Distracted Driving was responsible for AnnaLeah’s and Mary’s deaths (no one investigated this thoroughly that we are aware of). But we do know that the truck driver–for whatever reason–did not notice the slowed traffic ahead in time and, and as a result, hit our car twice.
Was his driving impaired due to being distracted, drugged, drinking, or drowsy (Driving While Fatigued–DWF)? Whatever the reason, AnnaLeah’s and Mary’s lives were abruptly ended.
Hardly a day goes by without coming across some reminder of the special girls they were and the empty place that no one else can fill in our lives. Just this morning, I found a little piece of paper that had fallen off a clothes hanger. In the last couple years of her life, Mary had made tags for her hangers and meticulously organized her closet. A simple reminder of our Mary, a poignant reminder of our loss.
Here are some further thoughts & tools to help you avoid distracted driving:
I recently made some comments on a facebook post (by a radio show host) about proposed Texas legislation to ban texting while driving. I was frustrated with some comments made by others that they didn’t want this curb on personal freedom and that laws were not effective anyway. The following is an edited version of my “final” comment on that post:
Here is a before and after picture of our two girls in our car. Actually, the before photo was from less than a year before our truck crash–when we were stopped on the highway due to a traffic fatality ahead of us. The after photo shows the result of a truck driver who was apparently distracted or “impaired”–abruptly ending two lives.
The point is that this is not a matter of personal right/freedoms being violated. This is a matter of personal choices needing to bear consequences when they result in death or injury for others (or themselves). Distracted/impaired driving of any kind needs to be outlawed–for the benefit & protection of those who are its innocent victims.
Enforcement & justice must follow. Raising awareness is essential–including acknowledgement of the extent of the problem and our own culpability and vulnerability. Research is also needed in order to find innovative technologies or means to curb the behavior which is sometimes addictive. And please do not forget the impact that this problem has on the lives of those who are responsible for someone else’s death.
The inadequacies of any solution to the widespread problem of distracted/impaired driving should not stop us from trying to put an end to these senseless & preventable crashes, which are not “accidents” but the result of personal choices/behaviors. The answer is most certainly not to put our head in the sand or discourage attempts to address this life & death matter but to work together to end such tragedies–one at a time.