Every time you get behind the wheel, there’s risk of a crash. With more than 208 million licensed drivers in the U.S., roads are clogged as ever; the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that distracted driving is an increasing cause for incidents.
Although recent data show a decrease in fatal accidents over the past 10 years, there were still nearly 34,000 U.S. traffic fatalities in 2009. If you want to avoid becoming a statistic, make sure to steer clear of these deadly driving mistakes when you hit the road.
Accounting for nearly a third of traffic fatalities in 2009, driving while intoxicated is one of the leading causes of fatal accidents. According to the NHTSA, an alcohol-impaired driving fatality occurs when a driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher.
Though the latest figures show that alcohol-related driving deaths have declined 7.4 percent since 2008, total traffic fatalities have also declined 9.7 percent. This means the decrease seen in alcohol-impaired deaths is essentially negligible because the trend is in line with overall fatalities.
Thankfully, states across the country have begun implementing new policies to combat offenders. New York, for example, requires first-time drunk drivers to install electronic breathalyzers that act as ignition locks in their vehicle. If they blow over a 0.025 BAC, even though the criminal limit in most states is .08 BAC, the car won’t start. If the driver’s BAC is clean, they can drive away but must retest over the course of the journey. The kicker: the state downloads the information from the breathalyzer once a month to learn all the details of a driver’s tests.
If you have a designated driver or call a cab when you’ve knocked a few too many back, you won’t have to worry about electronic breathalyzers or hurting yourself and others.
According to NHTSA, in 2005 only 10 percent of all traffic fatalities were attributable to distraction. In 2009, however, that number rose to16 percent.
As we’ve seen cellular phone usage rise, so have accidents where someone was distracted. Of the fatal crashes related to distraction, just over 18 percent involved reports of a cell phone contributing to the event.
Ford has tackled this problem head on with its class-leading SYNC system, which acts as an in-car infotainment system. The latest update to SYNC allows it to not only read text messages audibly but also let the driver respond -- while keeping hands on the steering wheel at all times. But if this is too complicated for you, there is a special “do not disturb” button that blocks incoming phone calls and messages.
But you don’t need to buy a Ford to minimize distraction. DriveSafe.ly, a smartphone app, can read text messages and e-mails aloud. Here’s the cool part: it can automatically respond to the received message without the driver touching their phone. Although it is not able to work hand-in-hand with your vehicle’s electronics, it is a simple solution to a big problem.
Not Wearing A Seat Belt
Representing more than half of passenger vehicle deaths in 2009 were occupants who were not wearing seatbelts.
Aside from really annoying chimes that alert you when you don’t wear your seat belt, there isn’t much to stop drivers from not buckling up. However, law enforcement agencies have been ramping up their “Click it or Ticket” campaigns to combat seat belt shirkers. The NHTSA claims the campaigns have driven the national seat belt usage rate up to 84 percent.
This hasn’t kept automakers from taking matters into their own hands. Ford has introduced the MyKey system, which allows owners to program their car keys with certain settings. For example, if you’re a parent with a new teenager behind the wheel, you can program MyKey to have a consistent chime and mute the audio system until the seat belt is buckled. That should get the message across more efficiently than any lecture. Finding a way to get teens to buckle up is key. According to NHTSA, drivers ages 16-24 are the least likely to wear their seat belt.
According to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 41 percent of driver’s polled admitted falling asleep or nodding off while driving at some point in their lives. Even more disturbing is that estimates from the study suggest that 16.5 percent of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver.
Unlike drunk driving, there is no way to quantify sleepiness. However, there are certain characteristics that are common, according to the NHTSA: sleep loss, driving patterns that include the time of travel and how many miles driven annually, use of sedatives, untreated sleep disorders and the consumption of alcohol.
Additionally, there are population groups that are at a higher risk: young males, drivers ages 16 to 24, shift workers and people with a sleep disorder.
With that said, there are only a couple of countermeasures: get enough sleep and limiting driving when you’re tired.
Recognizing the problem, automakers are beginning to do what they can to curb drowsy driving. Mercedes-Benz recently debuted a new standard feature for the E-Class -- Attention Assist. This system monitors 70 parameters that essentially learn the driving style of an operator. When the system detects that a driver is becoming drowsy, it alerts the driver and advises them to pull over.