Friday, March 30, 2012

Don't Be Fooled: Buckle Up in the Back!

Would you be surprised to hear that, in the year 2012, national estimates find that roughly 25 percent of backseat passengers still don’t buckle up? Or that about half the states in the country only require drivers and front seat passengers to use a seatbelt, despite mounds of evidence demonstrating the benefits of these lifesaving devices?

It appears too many people still cling to the misperception that riding unbelted in the backseat is somehow safe.

In honor of April Fool’s Day, we are launching an effort to confront myths about traffic safety and set the record straight using data and research. The more informed we are, the better equipped we’ll be to make appropriate decisions to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and those with whom we share the road.

So just how misguided is the belief that seatbelts aren’t important for backseat passengers? Studies have shown that buckling up in the back can reduce your risk of death in a crash by 60-70 percent when traveling in a car or light truck. Moreover, because you yourself can become a dangerous projectile if not properly restrained, your belted friends and family sitting in the front are 20 percent more likely to die in a crash if you fail to use your seatbelt in the back.

So please, for your safety and the wellbeing of those you’re traveling with, buckle up wherever you’re sitting, every time you get in a vehicle.

Our full announcement of our April Fool’s project, along with details about this first myth, can be found here. We also want to hear from you! Is there a traffic safety myth or misperception you’d like to see confronted, debunked, or confirmed? Leave a comment on this blog, or contact us at, or via Facebook or Twitter. We’ll investigate and periodically publish our findings. And stay tuned – later this month we’ll take a closer look at a myth regarding fatal crashes involving older drivers.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Teens and Distraction: Part 2- Electronics and Passengers

In Part 1 of our “Teens and Distraction” blog, we discussed how gender played a role in some of the distractions observed. In part 2, we’ll focus on other teen distractions found, such as use of electronics, driving with passengers and horseplay.

Electronic Devices

Using electronic devices accounted for nearly one third of all the incidences of distracted driving observed in the study. Other frequent distractions included adjusting vehicle controls, personal grooming, and eating or drinking.

Researchers spotted or suspected the teens of using electronic devices in 7% of the video clips where the vehicles registered a g-force event, such as sudden braking or swerving. Teens were twice as likely to text or type on their electronic devices than they were to make handheld calls. Recent reports suggest teens send between 3,000 to 4,000 texts per month, so it's not surprising to see this behavior taking place, but it underscores how critical it is for teens to put down their devices and pay attention to driving.

Drivers in the study using electronic devices look away from the road more frequently and longer than drivers engaging in other distracting behaviors. On average, they looked away a full second longer – long enough to travel the length of a basketball court!

Passengers, Loud Conversations & Horseplay

Driving with passengers was also found to influence driver behavior. Distracting teen activities significantly decreased when parents or other adults were present in the car. In contrast, loud conversation and horseplay were more than twice as likely to occur when multiple teens – instead of just one – were present. These distractions are particularly concerning, as they are associated with the occurrence of crashes, other serious incidents (such as leaving the roadway), and high g-force events. Drivers were six times more likely to have a serious incident when there was loud conversation in the vehicle, and were more than twice as likely to have a high g-force event when there was horseplay.

More information from this study, including a press release and fact sheet can be found here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Part 1: Teens and Distraction- Males vs. Females

With teen crash rates roughly four times higher than those of adult drivers, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers in America. Today, the Foundation released the results from our new teen driver study which showed that females display more distracted behaviors behind the wheel than males. 
Using in-car video footage, researchers identified the prevalence and consequences of various distracted driver behaviors and distracting conditions among teens during high g-force maneuvers, such as swerving, hard braking, or rapid acceleration. 

Interestingly, gender played a role in some of the distractions observed. Females were nearly twice as likely as males to use an electronic device while driving, and overall were nearly 10% more likely to be observed engaging in other distracted behaviors, such as reaching for an object in the vehicle (nearly 50% more likely than males) and eating or drinking (nearly 25% more likely).

Males, on the other hand, were roughly twice as likely to turn around in their seats while driving, and were also more likely to communicate with people outside of the vehicle.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll discuss more findings from this study, including how electronics, passengers and other distractions affect teen driver behavior.

 More information from this study, including a press release and fact sheet, can be found here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Putting Safety in the Front Seat

Travelers looking to purchase commercial bus tickets for interstate travel now have a new tool at their disposal when selecting a carrier, thanks to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) free SaferBus iPhone app.

Launched today, the app allows bus customers to access FMCSA’s safety data in a user-friendly way. After entering the name of a given bus company, app users will get information about its safety performance over the previous two years. Icons representing unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, controlled substances/alcohol, and vehicle maintenance pop up, along with alerts if a carrier has shown deficiencies in these areas.

In the worst cases, the icons will be replaced by bold red text indicating that a given bus company is forbidden to operate. Customers can also use the app to report safety complaints directly to FMCSA.

Marketed under the banner “Look Before You Book,” this new app provides a quick, practical way to factor in a company’s safety record when selecting among carriers. It also serves as an important reminder that price and convenience are not the only two things customers should look for when purchasing a bus ticket. As always, safety should be the top priority.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Skidding through the Learning Curve

“Practice makes perfect,” right? Well when it comes to driving, it may not equal perfection, but it certainly helps. In fact, inexperience is one of the major reasons that teenagers have crash rates that are roughly four times higher than those of other drivers.

To address this, the AAA Foundation has been talking a lot lately about the importance of giving teens ample opportunity to practice their driving. The message has become even more urgent due to recent Foundation research that found that teens are not getting as much supervised driving practice with their parents as previously assumed, and that when they do practice, it tends to be along familiar routes on sunny days, rather than under the range of conditions motorists will face throughout their driving careers.

That teens need more – and more varied – driving practice is undeniable. I’d like to take this opportunity, however, to touch on a somewhat related issue that remains a bit more controversial. Across the country, interest is growing in so-called “supplementary” training programs for new drivers, which generally pick up where traditional, basic driver education courses leave off and teach more advanced skills like skid recovery, evasive maneuvering, and threshold braking. The hope, of course, is that students will learn skills that they can use to prevent crashes and escape emergencies.

The fear, however – suggested by the limited research conducted to date – is that such advanced training may breed overconfidence in inexperienced drivers that is not matched by their true skill level. There is also a concern that young drivers will apply the techniques they learn for thrills when driving, which would negate any gains in safety.

A study prepared for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – which the AAA Foundation summarized and analyzed in a report released this week – found that most providers of these supplementary training programs indicate that improving safety is among their chief objectives, and is one of the most common reasons that parents enroll their teens. As we highlighted in our report, however, more research into the impact that these programs have on teen driving is sorely needed before any claims about their safety implications can be substantiated.

In the meantime, there is much that parents and guardians can be doing to give their teens the kinds of opportunities to practice what we know are beneficial. For example, as one of our recent reports on teen crashes found, young drivers improve relatively quickly at making left turns, entering roadways, and yielding properly, among other things, but they need practice to do so. The more experience they can get with such techniques while supervised, the less they may have to learn when they’re driving on their own.

With traffic crashes still the leading killer of American teens, it’s vital that we all do our part to keep young drivers safe on the road. When we’re teaching our teens how to drive, let’s be sure to help them steer safely through the learning curve without over-correcting.