Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Working Together for Safer Roads

This month, we are very excited that the Roadway Safety Foundation -- a charitable group here in DC that is dedicated to promoting safe road design and educating the public about the importance of safety engineering -- has released a new edition of its popular Roadway Safety Guide

First published almost 15 years ago, the Guide is a community-oriented document intended for local leaders, active citizens, and any road users who may be concerned about the safety of the roads where they live and work, and who need assistance finding the right people and agencies to turn to for help. Written for non-engineers, it is both a readable introduction to key roadway safety concepts and crash countermeasures -- such as roundabouts and median barriers -- and a guide to working effectively with Departments of Transportation, police departments, highway authorities, etc. 

The AAA Foundation is proud to sponsor this valuable document, as it aligns closely with our mission of "saving lives through research and education." Roadway engineering and design is a topic that generally doesn't get the kind of public attention that driver behavior and vehicle safety issues do (such as distracted driving or high-profile auto recalls), but it plays a critical role in the overall traffic safety equation. Our research into crashes related to pavement edge drop-offs (when erosion, broken pavement, or other issue results in a 2-inch or greater difference between the roadway and its adjacent surface) shows, for example, that they are much more likely to cause fatalities or serious injuries than are other crash types on similar roadways.

With input from numerous stakeholders -- such as the Federal Highway Administration, 3M, AARP, and others -- and featuring case studies of exemplary community work across the country, the Guide also serves as an informative collection of expertise from a diverse group of government agencies, non-profits, corporations, advocates, schools, and others. To get started learning about how roadway safety is important to your community, check out the free online edition here. And, for more on our work in this area, such as our brochure on avoiding pavement edge drop-off crashes, visit

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Have Trouble Installing Your Child's Safety Seat? You're Not Alone...

If you have young kids, you know how important it is to keep them safe on the roads, whether as pedestrians, cyclists, or passengers. All too often, however, parents and caregivers may not know how to protect their littlest traveling companions in the most effective way. Between 1994 and 2010, roughly one-third to one-half of all children ages eight and under who were killed in motor vehicle crashes were completely unrestrained, and one-fifth to one-quarter were incorrectly restrained by only a standard seatbelt. 

To promote correct and consistent use of approved child safety seats, the Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren (LATCH) system has been required equipment on all new vehicles since 2002. However, in the 10+ years since its inception, concerns have persisted about its ease of use, and the variations in its implementation across vehicle types and brands. In fact, our latest report, a survey of certified child passenger safety (CPS) technicians, finds that 80.5% of these experts believe errors using LATCH are not obvious to parents and caregivers, and less than half think users are more likely to correctly install a seat with LATCH than with a standard seatbelt.

We've been studying LATCH for a year now, with the goal of informing Federal updates to the rules that govern the system. In addition to the survey, our project included human factors analyses and an expert panel workshop, all designed to offer practical recommendations for improving LATCH. Among other things, these include making LATCH available in rear center seats, increasing and standardizing weight limits, and improving labeling and other information in vehicles, on seats, and in owner's manuals. 

With a high number of CPS technicians reporting that they frequently encounter potentially-serious LATCH-use errors (83.9%, for example, say they often or occasionally see caregivers using LATCH with a seatbelt), it's clear there is more work to be done in this area. And with 640 children ages eight and under killed each year in motor vehicle crashes in the United States, getting this work done could hardly be more urgent.

For details about this project and our other research, please visit

Monday, February 10, 2014

Leading by Example in 2014

Anybody familiar with the Foundation’s work has certainly seen or heard us use the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do,” in describing the nation’s traffic safety culture.

This characterization reflects the fact that high numbers of respondents on our annual Traffic Safety Culture Index survey routinely admit to engaging in the same risky driving behaviors that they say pose a threat to safety, and are unacceptable when performed by others. It’s an attitude that we’d like to see shift toward “Leading by example,” whereby motorists would hold themselves to the same standards they know are necessary for safety on our roadways.

Perhaps not surprisingly, little changed in this regard in our sixth annual survey, just published late last month. So maybe it’s time, then, to take a step back and reflect on why we are so persistent in pressing this issue.

Our latest findings show that one third of Americans have had a friend or relative seriously injured or killed in a traffic crash. That’s over 100 million of us – including some of us right here at the Foundation – who have been touched by loss or affected by the struggles of recovery of a loved one. And each year, more than 33,000 of us lose our lives entirely. For what? Because somebody couldn’t wait for a green light? Couldn’t resist sending a text? Didn’t bother to arrange a sober ride home? Didn’t get enough sleep?

Traffic crashes and the hurt they cause are preventable and outrageous, and our mission of “saving lives through research and education” is centered on identifying risks and solutions to effect real-world improvements. One area in which we began to get new insight with our 2013 survey was marijuana use and driving. With several places now considering or already legalizing marijuana, this is truly an emerging topic that requires study. In 2013, our survey found that more than one third (36.3%) of drivers who reported using marijuana in the past year admitted to driving within one hour of doing so.

Late last month our Research and Development Advisory Committee helped us establish our research priorities for the coming year. As plans are finalized, we will post details here and on our Current Projects web page. As always, we hope you’ll learn about these studies and help us “lead by example” in 2014 and beyond, as we continue to work Toward Zero Deaths in the U.S. and around the world.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Groundhog Day Wish: Safe Winter Driving for Six More Weeks

According to the famed shadow-spotting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, we are in for another six weeks of winter. This makes last week's American Highway Users Alliance press conference on the importance of safe winter driving and road maintenance all the more timely and important.
Highlighting the major snow storms which battered much of the U.S. last week - leading to a deadly multi-vehicle pileup on Indiana’s Interstate 94 and leaving scores of motorists stranded in the South - the press event provided data from a new study showing the benefits of timely ice and snow removal from the nation's roadways. 

Conducted by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, the study found that the use of road salt reduces collisions by up to 85 percent, and that before-and-after analysis on four-lane roads showed a 93 percent reduction in crashes after deicing. For jurisdictions concerned about the costs of having a robust winter maintenance plan, the study also found that deicing pays for itself a mere 25 minutes after salt is applied.

The dangers of wintry roadways are well known: more than 1,300 people are killed and another nearly 117,000 are injured each year in crashes on snowy, slushy, or icy pavement. There is also a serious economic consideration when roads become impassable due to ice and snow: an earlier study presented by the Highway Users found that a one-day snowstorm can cost a state as much as $300-$700 million in both direct and indirect costs.

These concerns are at the tops of many motorists' minds this time of year, as they are for those of us at the AAA Foundation. That's why we were very pleased that AAA's John Townsend, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, was a featured speaker at the press conference, offering valuable safe driving tips. To maximize winter road safety, AAA and the Foundation encourage motorists to: 

  • Make certain your tires are properly inflated - after all, they're the only part of your car that contacts the roadway!
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full. As we saw again in the debacle in Atlanta last week, roads can become impassable without warning, and having enough gas to stay warm and outlast an unexpected delay is essential.
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly - it takes longer to slow down on snowy, icy roads.
  • The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to 10 seconds.
  • Keep emergency supplies in your trunk at all times, such as water, a shovel, kitty litter, blankets, gloves and hats, etc.
For more tips on safe winter driving, check out AAA's brochure, "How to Go on Ice and Snow." For details on the Highway Users press conference and the new study presented, see the full press release here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Exciting New Research Shows Value of Cognitive Training

Most drivers know the awful, jolting feeling that comes when the car in front brakes suddenly, and when a couple of milliseconds in reaction time can mean the difference between a scare and a disaster.

But did you know that there’s a proven way to train your brain and “earn" the extra milliseconds that you might need to avoid a bad crash? Not only that, but new federally-sponsored research has found significant long-term benefits of the cognitive exercises that help you do so! 

Since 2009, the AAA Foundation has partnered with Posit Science, a leading developer of brain training software, to promote the DriveSharp program, which works by changing your brain’s ability to process what it sees. DriveSharp is not a driving simulation or education program; instead, you engage with interactive and challenging computer-based exercises that “re-train” the brain to process visual information faster and improve at tasks that require divided attention.
Taken together, we already knew that these benefits have been clinically shown to reduce stopping distance by up to 22 feet at 55 mph, improve your useful field of view by up to 200 percent, and, most remarkably, cut your risk of a crash by up to 50 percent. Earlier this month, however, new research was released which also points to significant long-term benefits of cognitive training with the core exercise of DriveSharp.
The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the largest study of cognitive training ever conducted, and the first to measure long-term effects. Involving nearly 3,000 participants with an average age of 74 at the outset, the study found that improvements in processing speed persisted 10 years after just 10 hours of training with one of the two exercises in DriveSharp.

With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day from now until 2030, senior safety and mobility is a critical issue for communities throughout the country. And at the AAA Foundation, one of our core beliefs is that safe mobility is a right for all. We are therefore very excited to see further evidence that DriveSharp can help older Americans more safely exercise the privilege of driving, and maintain independence.

Of course, even a cognitively-trained driver cannot be a safe one if he or she is not paying attention to the road. So remember: obey the speed limit, and keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and mind on the driving task at all times. This, coupled with training, will help keep you and those around you as safe as possible out on the roads.

To learn more, visit

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Spirits

Yesterday, AAA issued its annual end-of-year travel forecast, predicting a record-setting year in the number of motorists this holiday season. While in some ways this is good news – a sign of economic recovery, perhaps, and more people having the opportunity to visit loved ones – an impaired driver can turn the holidays into a nightmare for any of the 85.8 million people who are expected to travel by road this year. And unfortunately, our latest survey data indicate that in 2013, there have been as many impaired drivers out there as ever.

It’s not that people don’t “get it.” Our latest findings from the annual Traffic Safety Culture Index survey show that 96 percent of drivers think it’s somewhat or completely unacceptable for somebody to get behind the wheel when they think they may have had too much to drink. A high number (91%) perceive social disapproval of drunk driving from others, and 93 percent say drivers who have been drinking pose a somewhat or very serious threat to their personal safety. There is even relatively strong support for countermeasures to impaired driving, such as ignition interlocks.

Yet among people who report consuming alcohol (and who are licensed drivers), roughly one-in-five admit to driving when they thought their BAC level was close to or over the legal limit, at least once in the past year. And the problem isn’t just alcohol: there is much less public concern about drugged driving (illicit or prescription), and among people who report using marijuana, more than a third (36%) said they’ve driven within an hour of doing so in the past year. This is an attitude that we’ve long described with the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

The spirit of the season may bring joy for the holidays, but the spirits – when combined with driving – can be deadly. Indeed, far too many people already mark the holidays with sadness at the loss of a loved one to an impaired driving crash. So for the sake of yourself, your family and friends, and the tens of millions of people with whom you’ll share the road this season, don’t wait until New Years to make a resolution to avoid driving impaired. By then it could be too late.

For more information about our latest impaired driving survey data, and for tips on staying safe on the road this holiday season, please check out our new fact sheet. And please, have a safe and happy holiday.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Road Safety and Drowsy Driving

Each year, Drowsy Driving Prevention Week (DDPW, Nov. 3-10, 2013) focuses national attention on the significant threat posed by motorists who get behind the wheel while extremely tired. As we’ve discussed previously on this blog, our research shows that roughly one-in-six fatal crashes involves a drowsy driver. And, according to new survey data released this week from our latest Traffic Safety Culture Index, just about everybody thinks it’s unacceptable to drive when you’re having a tough time keeping your eyes open, but a substantial number of people do so anyway.

While we generally discuss drowsy driving within the context of our safety culture research, this week presents a valuable opportunity to highlight how this priority concern relates to another of our focus areas: road safety. Within the realm of traffic safety more broadly, “road safety” refers to the engineering and design features, maintenance, and operating conditions of the road network itself, including roadways and the roadside environment. Our research on pavement edge drop-offs, which examined how the design and construction of the road edge can influence certain types of crashes, is an example of this area of study.

But how can engineering considerations and road safety relate to drowsy driving? A common road safety principle is that a roadway should be forgiving of driver error. This means that the design of a road can help mitigate crash severity, or, even better, prevent crashes from happening in the first place. Installing rumble strips, for example, can prevent a drowsy driver from having a run-off-the-road crash, as the noise and vibration they cause are designed to jolt drivers back to attention. Similarly, median barriers – such as cable guardrail or jersey walls – can serve as a last line of defense for a drowsy driver by preventing or mitigating cross-over, head-on collisions.    

Our flagship effort to improve road safety across the country is the United States Road Assessment Program (usRAP), an operating program of the AAA Foundation. usRAP provides highway authorities a simple but robust way to make data-informed decisions for the safety of the motoring public. Using a video log of a roadway, for example, usRAP can analyze the engineering features of a given segment, assign a star safety rating (similar to the safety ratings commonly used for evaluating vehicles), and generate a safety investment plan to reduce the risks identified.

This week, in addition to commemorating DDPW, we were very pleased to celebrate the achievement of the Genesee County Road Commission in Michigan, which won a 2013 National Roadway Safety Award for utilizing the usRAP protocols to generate a county safety plan with an estimated benefit-cost ratio of 2.3. The Award was presented by the Federal Highway Administration and the Roadway Safety Foundation at a luncheon on Capitol Hill, with GCRC and usRAP staff in attendance.

While usRAP provides a valuable tool for the highway agencies nationwide that are responsible for building and maintaining safe roads, it is up to each of us as motorists to ensure that every time we get behind the wheel, we are prepared to use those safe roads safely. This requires being awake, alert, attentive, and sober – always. And at the AAA Foundation – which recently again received Charity Navigator’s coveted 4-Star rating – we’ll continue in our mission to provide the science and tools needed for drivers, highway authorities, and others to move Toward Zero Deaths on our roads.