Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Deadliest Day?


This week, AAA predicts that 41 million Americans will venture 50+ miles from home for the Independence Day holiday weekend, with more than 80% of these travelers doing so by car -- the highest number since 2007. While in many respects this may be good news -- a boon for travel and tourism industries, and a sign of economic recovery -- a AAA Foundation analysis of 10 years of crash data found that July 4th ranks as the deadliest day of the year on the roads, with more than 40 percent of fatalities due to drunk driving.




There is a twist, however. Day of the week affects traffic crashes and fatalities much more than specific dates do, with any given Saturday or Sunday generally deadlier than a major holiday that falls on, say, a Wednesday. For example, in 2006, when July 4 fell on a Tuesday, it was the 94th deadliest day of the year -- behind every other weekend in June, July, and August. It's only when you look at years of data that account for dates falling on each day of the week that July 4 emerges as the deadliest over time. 

Given that Independence Day falls on a Friday this year and creates a long holiday weekend, we have great reason to be concerned. Friday, July 4, 2008 saw 80 alcohol-involved traffic fatalities, making it the 22nd deadliest day that year, and Saturday, July 4, 2009 had 90, making it the 2nd deadliest day, behind only the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.    

Sadly, our latest Traffic Safety Culture Index found that many drivers continue to hold a “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude about impaired driving. While 96% of American drivers believe it’s unacceptable for someone to drive when they believe they’ve had too much to drink, and 52% of Americans believe drunk driving is a bigger issue today than it was three years ago, 1 in 8 drivers admit to driving under the influence of alcohol, and 1 in 10 say they did so more than once in the past year. 

Troubling as this is, alcohol is not the only cause of impaired driving. Drugged driving is also a serious issue, though one about which there appears to be less public concern. 61% of surveyed drivers said that people driving after using illegal drugs were a very serious threat, and just 32% said this about prescription drugs. Marijuana, a major news item given recent pushes toward legalization in several jurisdictions, still seems to be considered a "gray area" by many drivers. Only 59% say they think marijuana increases crash risk, and more than 1 in 3 drivers who report using marijuana in the past year say they drove within an hour of doing so.

So, what are some things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones this weekend?Remember:

  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Period.
  • Never get into a vehicle with a driver you suspect has been drinking or using drugs.
  • Call 911 if you spot a motorist you believe may be under the influence. Actions such as drifting in and out of the lane, failing to maintain a consistent speed or disobeying traffic signs may all be indicators of an impaired driver.
  • Make transportation arrangements before heading out to events, and consider options like designated drivers, taxis, and public transit.
  • Take a look at the AAA Foundation’s Roadwise Rx tool (roadwiserx.com) to see what possible effects your prescriptions may have on driving (side effects as well as drug interactions).
  • Always buckle up!

Have a safe and Happy Fourth!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

100 Deadliest Days for Teens

We’re 3 weeks into May, which means another successful Global Youth Traffic Safety Month (GYTSM) is well underway. The event, organized by the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS), includes special events, scholarships, rallies, and more, and is dedicated to raising awareness of teen traffic safety issues and promoting youth leadership. 

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a proud partner of NOYS, a coalition of non-profit, government, and corporate groups working to empower youth and save lives. Over the years, we've participated in planning GYTSM events, released teen driver safety research in conjunction with the month, and even acted as "Walk Ambassadors" for the Long, Short Walk, an international initiative spearheaded by the Zenani Mandela Campaign and Make Roads Safe to promote road safety's inclusion in the UN Development Goals.

Even though GYTSM 2014 will end May 31, it's important to keep up the mission of the month all summer long. In fact, the coming Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the "100 Deadliest Days" for teen drivers, with an average of 261 teens losing their lives in traffic crashes during each of the summer months (a 26% increase compared with the rest of the year). This is among the many reasons teen driver safety is one of our priority research areas.

For example, a Foundation study of teens and passengers found that the risk of death for 16- and 17-year-old drivers increases by 44% when carrying one passenger under 21, doubles with two passengers, and quadruples with three or more versus driving alone. 
Furthermore, the prevalence of speeding, late-night driving, and alcohol use also tend to increase with teenage passengers in the car. Having an adult in the car, however, cuts fatality risk to 16- and 17-year-old drivers by 62%, underscoring the important role parents and guardians play in keeping their teen drivers safe. When parents drive with their teens in different road situations, such as at night, in heavy traffic, or in inclement weather, they are helping to prepare them for the many driving scenarios they will encounter throughout their motoring careers. And of course, parents play a key role in helping teens limit dangerous distractions in the vehicle, such as smartphones and other electronics!

For more information about Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, check out the NOYS website, or join the Twitter conversation with #GYTSM14. And of course, all of our teen safety materials can be found at AAAFoundation.org.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Driving through the Golden Years...and Beyond!

Finding ways to help keep seniors safe and mobile is among the AAA Foundation's top research and education priorities. That's why we're initiating our largest-ever study of older drivers, in which we'll track several thousand seniors in various parts of the country over the course of many years. Along the way, this study will generate unique databases that will help us answer pressing questions about medical conditions, medication usage, travel habits, and mobility options for older Americans who can no longer drive.

For large scale, multiyear studies like this, it's always helpful to establish some baseline data and information about what is known at the outset. Therefore, we've just published an analysis of two existing national databases to get some insight into the medical conditions, medication usage, and travel patterns of today's older drivers. Our findings may surprise you.

First of all, older drivers are an active group. Over 75% of male drivers and 60% of female drivers over age 85 drive five or more days each week. Moreover, 84% of all Americans ages 65+ had a driver's license in 2010 (compared to barely half in the 1970s). In fact, every measure indicates increased automobility of older drivers: they take more trips, drive more miles, and spend more time driving now than they did 25 years ago.

Still, medical conditions and medication usage do appear to affect seniors' driving. Drivers 65-69 are twice as likely to report having a medical condition as drivers 24-64, and three-quarters of drivers 65+ who have a medical condition report reduced daily travel. Additionally, over 90% of senior drivers take prescription medications, and older drivers who do take medications avoid night driving at double the rate of drivers ages 24-64.

This report corroborates that seniors are among the nation's most responsible road users, and tend to self-regulate their driving. Still, many older Americans experience challenges that naturally accompany the aging process. To help, we offer Roadwise Rx, a free online tool that drivers can use to check the possible side effects and drug interactions of the medications they take which may affect safe driving ability. The results are personalized and confidential, and can serve as an excellent starting point for a conversation with your doctor.

As always, you can keep up to date on our ongoing senior safety study by visiting AAAFoundation.org/current-projects. And, for detailed findings from this latest report, check out this fact sheet.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Keep Your Cool! Avoiding Aggressive Driving and Road Rage

Earlier this month, Cincinnati Bengals H-back Orson Charles was arrested over a traffic incident in Madison County, Kentucky. It began when Charles cut off another driver on a freeway. The motorist responded by making an obscene gesture at Charles, who then brandished a weapon at the motorist. 

This incident is a prime example of aggressive driving escalating into possible road rage, and it can happen all too easily if we don't take steps to prevent it. First, though, it's helpful to understand the distinction. 

Any unsafe driving behavior, performed deliberately and with ill intention or disregard for safety, can constitute aggressive driving. Examples might include speeding, tailgating, red-light running, cutting off other drivers, etc. In fact, a Foundation study of this issue found that aggressive driving plays a role in up to 56% of fatal crashes. In extreme cases, aggressive driving can lead to road rage, a deliberate, criminal act with the intention to cause physical harm to other drivers. Think back to the situation between Orson Charles and the other motorist: Reacting in anger can escalate the situation, leading to a dangerous moment of road rage.

Our national surveys find that aggressive drivers represent a major concern of American motorists: 89% of the drivers surveyed for our 2013 Traffic Safety Culture Index, for example, believe that people driving aggressively pose a somewhat or very serious threat to safety. The survey also found that over two-thirds of all Americans believe aggressive drivers are a somewhat or much bigger problem today compared with three years ago.

Though a serious safety concern, many drivers are guilty of actions which can be considered aggressive. The same 2013 survey found, for example, that while 84% of drivers report that they are somewhat or much more careful than other drivers, 42% admit to speeding up to 15 mph over the limit on freeways, 45% speed 10 mph over the limit in residential neighborhoods, and 1 in 3 admit to running red lights!

So what is the best way to limit aggressive driving and prevent road rage incidents? Remember these three rules:
  1. Don’t Offend: Avoid actions which could enrage other drivers, such as cutting them off, driving slowly in the passing lane, tailgating, or making gestures which could be viewed as obscene or threatening.
  2. Don’t Engage: As the saying goes, “It takes two to tango,” and it takes both drivers to escalate a situation into road rage. If you notice a hostile driver, steer clear by avoiding eye contact, increasing your distance, and going for help if needed.
  3. Adjust Your Attitude: Leave as much time as possible to get to your destination, and remind yourself that you're not in a race. Also, remember that other drivers' actions have nothing to do with you and shouldn't be construed as personal. Most importantly, if you think you have a problem with anger on the road, ask for help! 
For more information on aggressive driving and road rage, please take a look at our brochure, Road Rage: How to Avoid Aggressive Driving, and visit AAAFoundation.org

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 AAAFoundation.org.

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 AAAFoundation.org

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.