We incurred another staggering 33,963 traffic fatalities in 2009. While
last year’s fatalities represent almost a 9 percent decline from the previous
year, someone now dies every 15 ½ minutes in a crash, instead of one every 14
minutes the previous year. One death should concern us, but deaths this
frequently is an outrage! But where’s the outrage?!
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently completed its third
annual Traffic Safety Culture Index,
finding that 52 percent of drivers said they feel less safe on the roads now
than they did five years ago. That’s up from 35 percent last year. The leading
reason cited was distracted driving, with 88 percent of motorists rating
drivers who text and email as a very serious threat to their safety.
The study showed that the majority of drivers (62 percent) feel that
talking on a cell phone is a very serious threat to safety, but they don’t
always behave accordingly, or believe that others share these views. In fact,
nearly 70 percent of those surveyed admitted to talking on their phones and 24
percent said they read or sent text messages or emails while driving in the previous month.
Unlike the social stigma surrounding drinking and driving, driving
while texting, emailing or talking on the phone aren’t perceived as an
egregious behavior despite overwhelming scientific evidence of the serious
crash risk these behaviors pose. These latest findings help identify crucial
disconnects between public perceptions and behaviors.
Traffic Safety touches our lives with serious consequences. Half of
survey respondents report having been involved in a serious crash, having had a
friend or relative injured or killed in a crash, or both. “Doing as I say, not
as I do” is a human characteristic, but there are ways to change human
behaviors. We need to recognize that driving is a complex human activity for
which much is taken for granted.
Yet in other countries, other cultures, humans are accepted for the
flawed individuals/drivers they are and focus on creating a system that recognizes and tries to
compensate. This isn’t to say people shouldn’t be held accountable for
irresponsible behavior. It IS to say, however, that they shouldn’t be held
accountable for being human, that is, imperfect.
There is much we can do structurally, organizationally, at the policy
level that will produce changes in individual behavior. However, until we build
cars that assure belt use and other safety features, organizations prohibit
employees from using communication devices while driving, elected officials and
regulators start basing policies and programs on science rather than personal
beliefs, and until investments are made strategically, transparently,
accountably in safe roadway development--like we already do to fight wars and
disease--the carnage will continue. We must start with each one of us, doing
our part to practice and advocate traffic safety to change this culture of “do
as I say, not as I do.”
Jim Hanni is the executive vice president of
public and government affairs for AAA Kansas.