On a cool Saturday night last fall The Texas Aggies began celebrating their win against the Baylor Bears in a rival football game. Students from both campuses came together for the traditional post-game parties. However the parties and celebrations came to a devastating halt when 6 students were killed by a driver who had fallen asleep and hit them on the highway. The driver was not drunk, nor was he speeding, he just fell asleep. USA Today, explains in Over Work, Lack Of Sleep Cause Car Crashes, how an estimated 100,00 highway accidents occur each year as a result of drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Accidents such as the A&M tragedy can be prevented. Similar highway accidents occur each year caused by several factors. How safe are the highways we drive on everyday? As a driver am I fully aware of how safe I am on the highway, or do I just assume that I am protected based on what I hear on the news or read in the newspaper? In order to fully understand the concept of highway safety we must examine the various causes of automobile accidents and how to prevent them.
Overtime technology has improved tremendously. Transportation is an example of one major technological advancement. Driving an automobile has gone from a luxury activity to an understood mean of transportation. Today driving is a way of life. The first place to prevent a possible highway accident is at the car dealership. Today s market gives the buyer an extremely large choice in the make, model, and year of the car they would like to purchase. A buyer can choose to purchase an SUV, a sports car, a mini van, the list of choice goes on and on. Recently Ford recalled all sport utility vehicles with certain Firestone tires. The tires were dangerous and had caused many highway accidents. Firestone replaced the damaged tires but, David Pittle an author for USA Today wrote, Even with new tires, sport utility vehicles present consumers were still at a substantially higher risk from rollover. The National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) has very little to offer to these consumers. As of now all they have to offer is a warning sticker on certain SUVs telling consumers to avoid making sharp turns, lest the vehicle roll over or crash. But safer vehicles, not stickers, are what consumers need. Other types of vehicles on the highway include large trucks better known as 18wheelers. Large trucks cause 13% of all traffic fatalities. “Large Trucks” explains that many accidents are caused from “loss of steering in emergency stopping.” All new trucks are required to be equipped with anti-lock breaks and the drivers are required to stop 20-40 percent earlier than a normal passenger car would.” Motorcycles are a very used form of transportation. “Motorcycles” gives statistics and facts on the majority of motorcyclists. Most motorcycle drivers involved in highway crashes were speeding at the time of the accident. Nearly 1 out of 5 motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes was not wearing a helmet and was operating the vehicle with an invalid license at the time of collision. Cars, light trucks, and vans make up the majority of vehicles driven on highways. “Cars, Light Trucks, and Vans” explains that passengers are more likely to be injured and possibly killed with a frontal impact collision. Passenger vehicles account for ninety percent of all occupant fatalities and for ninety-seven percent of all injuries received in a collision. Researching the facts surrounding the vehicle of choice is strongly recommended.
Prevention of highway accidents starts with the vehicle safety but depends on how safe the actual driver is when operating the vehicle. Seatbelts serve as one of the best methods of protection to the passengers when riding in a vehicle. “Occupant Protection” examines the laws separate states have in affect regarding seatbelts and child restraints. Statistics show that if people were wearing safety belts, 20,351 lives could have been saved” in just one year. Hundreds of children are saved each year when properly seated in child restraints. Children should not be placed in the front seats of cars equipped with passenger-side airbags. NHTSA recommends that children 12 and under sit in the rear seat away from the force of a deploying bag. Seatbelts reduce the risk of fatal and serious injury by 45 percent each year as given in “Seat-Belt Systems.” In highway collisions the passengers may receive rib and abdominal injuries,” but these risks are minimal to what could have resulted from not wearing a seatbelt at all. Cathy Chase, the Director of State Affairs of Advocates for highway and Auto safety mentions in her statement “Submitted To The Virginia House Of Delegates” how failure to wear a safety belt contributes to more fatalities than “any other single traffic safety-related behavior. She goes on to tell of certain states which now have standard safety belt enforcement laws, and their belt use averages 15 percent points higher than states that do not have enforced safety belt laws. In the states enforcing safety belt laws 132,000 serious injuries and possible fatalities have been prevented proving that enforcement of safety belts should be a nation wide law and not a states decision to enforce or not to enforce the law. Chase s research indicated that when adults were not buckled up, most often neither were their children. Children are restrained 90 percent of the time if the adult driver is buckled up compared to a shocking 30 percent of children buckled when the driver is not buckled. The fact remains on average seven children are killed each day under the age of 14. The deaths are almost all due to the fact that the child was not wearing a safety belt. The safest seat for children in the vehicle is the back seat. “Child Passenger Safety” examines the causes and effects of child safety restraints. Children who ride in the back seat suffered a third fewer fatalities than those who rode in the front . Most states have now enforced laws regarding car seats and the age at which a child legally must be belted in. Strong safety belt laws protect children (2). Each year thousands of children s lives are protected from proper seat belt use. Injury and fatal accidents are also minimized when seatbelts are used.
Highway accidents are caused by several factors. A major cause of highway accidents is due to the driver s awareness. Many things can cause a driver to not be fully aware of the driving environment. Of these thing alcohol is the leading cause of highway accidents. “Impaired Driving” tells how every 33 minutes there is an alcohol related crash fatality. Approximately 3 out of every ten adults will be involved in an alcohol related traffic crash sometime in their life. Alcohol related crashes cost society more than $45 billion a year. Just one alcohol-related crash is estimated to cost approximately $950,000. NHTSA estimates that alcohol was involved in 38.5 percent of fatal crashes in one year alone. In “Alcohol” the author gives intoxication rates for drivers in fatal crashes. “27.9 percent for motorcycles, 20.2 percent for light trucks, 18.2 percent for passenger cars, and 1.1 percent for large trucks” were the estimated percent of intoxicated drivers involved in a fatal crash. Not only alcohol, but also even lack of sleep can cause a driver to be impaired. As in the story of the 6 college students killed in College Station, a driver who falls asleep is as dangerous as a driver who is intoxicated. Baylor Police Chief Jim Doak states in “Fatigue A Threat To Highway Safety”, by John Drake, that falling asleep behind the wheel is a common occurrence. He goes on to say that when driving late at night on a dark road monotony sets in and drivers find themselves wondering where they have been the last ten miles. Most drivers do not realize that they are tired until they begin driving. There is an attitude by most drivers that they can keep going and that they do not need rest. Doak goes on to say that ways to prevent driving while the person is tired are to pull over and stop and buy a coke, Dr.Pepper, have a cup of coffee, and do whatever the body tells you. Many times drivers know they should pull over or switch drivers. The body can tell the driver that it is tired. It is up to the driver, however to actually do what is safest. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has worked in lowering the number of sleep related accidents on the highways by creating “rumble strips” on the sides of most highway lanes. These rumble strips do just what they say, they make a loud rumble noise that will hopefully wake the driver up before an accident happens. Jayne O’Donnell of USA Today, says in “Device To Rouse Drowsy Drivers,” these rumble strips can reduce crashes by up to 50 percent when their tires go over them. Even though most highways have these rumble strips, few secondary roads have them. In order to prevent even more crashes the NHSTA is working on installing these strips on secondary roads, which have been, reported to have more crashes per year. Hopefully, in the years to come all roads will be paved with these protective, and life saving rumble strips.
Along with highway accidents being caused by alcohol and lack of sleep age also plays a big part in the statistics. Teens and elderly people cause the majority of highway accidents. In “Passengers Mean Danger For Teen Drivers” Karen S. Peterson of USA Today explains how teen drivers are influenced by there peers and how their lack of experience is causing more and more highway accidents yearly. It is proven that as the number of passengers riding in a vehicle increases in a teen operated vehicle that the percentage of a fatal accident will increase also. Teens are new drivers and have little experience. When they are in an environment with friends they are easily distracted and do not focus on the road and the safety of the passengers as well as the surrounding vehicles. Research has been done to discover if teens need more restrictions on driving privileges. “Graduated Licensing” explains that there are three stages in earning complete-driving privileges. Some states have adopted a few if these features from graduated licensing and a smaller number of states have adopted all of the features. The features for the graduated license include that a driver wait six months after turning 16 to receive a license, that there is to be no unsupervised driving at night until age 18, and finally that there can only be one teen passenger in the vehicle with the newly licensed driver. Of the states who have participated in the GDL system the results have proven to be very effective. The results indicated that there were decreases in crashes especially involving young male drivers who in the past have had worse records than young females. Young drivers present a risk on the highway as well as older drivers. “Driving is More Dangerous for Older Drivers” discusses how older drivers do not deal with complex traffic as well as younger drivers. Multiple crashes at intersections increase with age. Older drivers are more likely to have medical complications following a motor vehicle crash compared to a younger driver. This means that the older the driver the more likely the driver will die from the injuries received in the accident. Older drivers are also associated with vision problems. Marilyn Elias of USA Today discovers in “Road Risk Escapes Vision Testing” that almost 48 percent of elderly drivers over the age of 65 had not renewed their drivers license and had not taken an eye exam in several years. Of the research done it was shown that the elderly had 42 percent of their accidents at night due to vision problems. Of the elderly tested 78 percent renewed their licenses and of those 54 percent had surgery to remove cataracts which had developed on their eyes. Not only are the young and elderly categorized in the type of people more likely to have an accident, they are also categorized by their gender. “Male/Female Fatal Crash Involvement” states men in comparison cause the three- percent more accidents to women drivers. Males accounted for 66 percent of all traffic fatalities, 69 percent of all pedestrian fatalities, and 88 percent of all pedacyclist fatalities. Among female drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes 32 percent were unrestrained at the time of collision, compared with 46 percent of male drivers in fatal crashes. This shows that women drivers do not wear seatbelts as often as men drivers do. The intoxication rate for male drivers involved in fatal crashes was 20.3 percent compared with 10.3 percent for female drivers. In regards to insurance a male under the age of 25 will most always pay higher rates that a female of the same age due to the high percentages of males who are more likely to have an accident.
Aggressive driving is a newly common practice on highways today. “Aggression: A Serious Highway Threat” gives various examples of the more common term “road rage.” Aggressive driving includes speeding, running a red light or stop sign, failure to yield the right of way or reckless driving according to USA Today’s definition. Using that definition USA Today analyzed every accident caused by one of the “requirements.” Of the data collected it was shown that most aggressive driving accidents do not cause injuries, and in many cases there is not enough evidence to justify a citation. However, this definition has changed somewhat with today’s driving habits. Aggressive driving now consists of drivers who are impatient, reckless, traveling at very high speed and forced to slow due to another driver, and even drivers who enjoy cutting people off on the highways. Road rage is a new act of driving and currently there are several tests being done to prove how many accidents and fatalities are caused from road rage each year. These tests have shown that reckless speeding caused 48 % of aggressive driving accidents. Male drivers are proven to cause more accidents than women do, but teen drivers are the most aggressive drivers.
Speeding is a major cause of highway accidents. SENSE is an organization created to educate the driver on new speeding laws and statistics regarding speeding. Many have raised the topic of lowering highway speed limits. Numerous case studies have been done which prove that with the speed limit at 65 the number of fatalities decreased dramatically. “Do Higher Speed Limits Cause Accidents, What About All The Studies From the Us?” gives examples of research records on the effects of increasing the speed limits. The speed limit change had an automatic impact on highway fatalities. After a year of the increased speed the impact “decayed,” over time the drivers had a “learning period.” This data was only from one source. Other sources such as in “Speeding” explain that speeding was a contributing factor in “30% of every fatal crash. The majority of speeding drivers are male and between the age of 15-20 years old at the time of the crash. Speeding causes accidents each year. The effects of increasing and decreasing have proven that regardless of the change, people still exceed the given limit and cause the speeding related accidents. However in Texas the highway speed limit is 70. Research shows that the high speed limit has a significant impact on fatalities each year and should be lowered to a safer more controllable speed. Speed is a major concern as to what should be done to prevent highway accidents. Along with automobile safety, healthy and awake bodies, restrictions on teenage driver’s license and restrictions on elderly drivers renewing their license highway accidents can be prevented. Drivers need to be aware of the driving environment and the safety of the passengers along with themselves.
Highway accidents occur daily. People everywhere either have been in an accident or they are close to someone who has been affected by a highway accident. Advances are being made daily to help make the highways safer, but the reality of the matter is that as long as drivers are unsafe, accidents will still occur and lives will still be taken.
“Alcohol.” National Highway Transportation Safety Association 1997. 25 September 2000 .
“Cars, Light Truck, and Vans.” National Highway Transportation Safety Association 1997. 25 September 2000.
Chase, Catherine. Statement. “Submitted To the Virginia House Of Delegates Committee On Transportation.” Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Virginia, 28 January 1999. 4 October 2000.
“Child Passenger Safety.” Advocates Fact Sheet January 2000. 4 October 2000.
“Do Higher Speed Limits Cause Accidents, What About All The Studies From The US?” SENSE 29 September 1998. 4 October 2000.
Drake, John. “Fatigue A Threat To Highway Safety.” The Baylor Lariat 13 October 1999. 25 September 2000.
“Driving Is More Dangerous For Older Drivers.” Safety 2000. 4 October 2000 .
Elias, Marilyn. Road Risk Escapes Vision Testing. USA Today 27 September 1999. 4
October 2000 .
Graduated Licensing. Advocates Fact Sheet January 2000. 4 October 2000
Impaired Driving. Advocates Fact Sheet January 2000. 4 October 2000
Large Trucks. Advocates Fact Sheet 1995. 4 October 2000
Male/Female Fatal Crash Involvement. National Highway Transportation Safety
Association 1997. 25 September 2000
Motorcycles. National Highway Transportation Safety Association 1998. 25 September
Occupant Protection. National Highway Transportation Safety Association 1997. 25
September 2000 .
O Donnell, Jayne/ Device TO Rouse Drowsy Drivers. USA Today 23 November 1999.
4 October 2000 .
Overwork, Lack of Sleep Cause Car Crashes. USA Today 21 December 1999. 4
October 2000 .
Peterson, Karen S. Passengers Mean Danger For Teen Drivers. USA Today 21 March
2000. 4 October 2000
Pittle, David. Toughen Up Auto Safety. USA Today 2 October 2000. 4 October 2000
Seat Belt Systems. Autoliv 2000. 4 October 2000
Speeding. National Highway Transportation Safety Association 1997. 25 September