Don't drive as I do

More than 29,000 people died in crashes that did not involve a truck in 2009

In all the hoopla about HOS reform, CSA, and a myriad of other regulatory efforts aimed at making trucking safer, we forget one very critical ingredient: Commercial vehicles share the road with a host of other motorized equipment that isn't nearly as heavily scrutinized.

Just look at the highway fatality numbers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) latest figures, 32,885 people died in U.S. motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2010, with 3,675 of them resulting from truck-car collisions. While truck-car crash fatalities are up 8.7% over 2009, rightly generating debate in safety circles, we forget that 29,210 people perished in highway accidents that never involved a truck.

Here's some other data to chew on. Research conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) shows that in fatal crashes where a “driver-related” factor is recorded, that factor is assigned to the driver of a passenger vehicle 80.5% of the time. On top of that, the majority of fatal multi-vehicle crashes (59%) recorded in FMCSA's database resulted from a passenger vehicle rear-ending a truck, crossing the median and hitting a truck head on, or hitting a truck in some other way; less than 40% of such accidents resulted from a truck striking a car.

Now consider this: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's annual Traffic Safety Culture Index continues to reveal the wide prevalence of a drive-as-I-say-don't-drive-as-I-do mentality among automobile drivers that may actually be hindering highway safety efforts. For example, distracted driving — specifically cell phone use and texting — remains a widespread problem, even though 94% of drivers consider texting while driving a serious threat.

More than one-third of drivers (35%) in AAA's poll admit to reading a text or email while driving in the past 30 days, and more than a quarter of drivers (26%) admit to sending a message while driving in the past month. Also, more than two-thirds of drivers (68%) report talking on their cell phone while driving in the past month, and nearly one in three (31%) say they do so fairly often or regularly.

Speeding is widespread on highways and residential roads, too, even though 74% of drivers consider it unacceptable for a driver to drive more than 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway. In fact, more than half of drivers (52%) admit to speeding by this much in the past month.

“Such findings indicate that a false [sense of] comfort exists among many drivers who believe ‘it is the other guy behind the wheel’ yet admit to regularly engaging in potentially deadly behaviors like texting, driving while drunk or drowsy, excessive speeding, and red light running,” noted Peter Kissinger, CEO of the AAA Foundation.

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