Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Nightmare on the Road

On May 31st of last year, a bus on an overnight trip from North Carolina to New York City crashed; killing four people and injuring more than 50 after the fatigued driver fell asleep at the wheel. Today, after a thorough investigation,  National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman put the blame on both the bus operator and federal regulators

Photo sourced from NBC Washington

While this crash was a tragic example of a commercial driver falling asleep at the wheel, this problem doesn’t only apply to those who drive for a living. In a 2010 study, the Foundation found that 2 out of 5 drivers (41%) reported ‘falling asleep or nodded off’ while driving at least once in their lifetime; one in 10 (11%) reported having done so within the past year, and 4% said they did so in the past month. 

Sleepiness can cause slower reaction time, lapses in judgment, vision impairment and delays in processing information. Studies has shown that being awake for more than 20 hours results in an impairment equal to a blood alcohol content of .08%, which is the legal limit in all states. In other words, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving!

The same Foundation study found an estimated 1 in 6 of fatal crashes, 1 in 8 of crashes resulting in hospitalization, and 1 in 14 of all crashes in which a passenger vehicle is towed involved a drowsy driver. And, many researchers believe drowsy driving related crashes are grossly under-reported.

If you find yourself having difficulty keeping your eyes opened and focused, drifting from your lane or are unable to clearly remember the last few miles driven and/or traffic signs, it’s time to find a safe place to pull over and evaluate your options.

Here are some tips to remain alert and prevent falling asleep at the wheel while driving:
  • Get plenty of sleep (at least seven hours) the night before a long trip
  •  Stop driving if you become sleepy; someone who is tired could fall asleep at any time – fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment and vision, causing people who are very sleepy to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk
  •  Travel at times when you are normally awake, and stay overnight rather than driving straight through;Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage. Since it takes about 30 minutes for caffeine to enter the bloodstream, find a safe place to take a 20‐30 minute nap while you’re waiting for the caffeine to take effect
  • Travel with an awake passenger

For more information about drowsy driving, go to www.aaafoundation.org, and remember to mark your calendars November 11th -17th for Drowsy Driving Awareness Week!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pedestrians and Cars

When it comes to traffic safety, “man versus machine” is not an inspiring story.  If a ton or more of metal traveling at high speed collides with a person, the person nearly always loses the match-up.  That’s one of the reasons why car crashes rank among the leading causes of death in the United States.

Speed plays a big role in determining the risk of severe injury or death when a car hits a pedestrian.  A recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study showed that the risk of a person dying from being hit by a car increases from 10 percent when the car is going 23 mph to 90 percent when the car is going 58 mph.

Injury rates are on a similar curve:  A pedestrian hit by a car moving at 16 mph has about a 10 percent chance of being injured; this increases to 90 percent when a car is going 46 mph. 

The AAA Foundation and its partners want to see those injury and fatality rates decline, reflecting a safer environment for all road users.  As a society, we can make that happen by reducing the risks of crashes occurring and reducing the risk of severe or fatal outcomes when crashes do take place.

Reducing speeds, especially in areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic, is a high priority.  Road designs that incorporate traffic calming, such as speed bumps, narrow lanes, and bends that force cars to slow down can all be effective tools. 

Features that keep cars and pedestrians apart, from sidewalks to pedestrian walkways, also help avoid crashes.  Traffic signals timed with pedestrians in mind can reduce encounters between vehicles and pedestrians, too.

But, as always, the fastest and easiest way to reduce crashes lies with you.  When you’re behind the wheel, share the road with pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users.  Slow down in areas where you know you may encounter pedestrians, including around schools, shopping centers, and offices.  And, pay attention.  In the second or two you look away to change the radio station or reset the GPS, a pedestrian can dart into the street in front of you with no warning.

When you’re a pedestrian, stay off the road when possible and monitor the traffic around you, so you can assess the risks you face.  Never assume that just because you can see vehicles  they can see you.

When traffic safety becomes a priority that everyone in our society values and pursues, all road users win.  And that’s a very inspiring story.

For more information on how you can become a safer road user, visit www.aaafoundation.org

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Buckle up! The roadway did...

The viral video of a car being launched airborne by a buckled Wisconsin highway may already be old news, but – given that we’re less than three weeks into the summer of 2012 – the conditions that created this dangerous situation hardly are. Many of us have already endured record-breaking heat and powerful storms – and it’s not yet even mid-July.

As we gulp down bottle after bottle of water, head to the pool, crank up the AC, take refuge in movie theaters, and find other ways of beating the heat, it’s important to remember that our vehicles need some TLC to survive these brutal months, too. And when the heat’s this bad, breakdowns can be particularly problematic, as motorists may be stranded in extreme temperatures with insufficient water and shade.

To protect yourself and your car this summer, make sure to check and top off vital fluids to keep your engine running smoothly and avoid overheating. Ensure that your tires are inflated properly, as extreme temperatures exacerbate the risk of a blowout. Keep sufficient fuel in your tank in case power failures or long lines at the pump make it difficult to find accessible gas stations in your area. If storm debris has damaged your windshield, have it replaced or repaired as soon as possible. And always carry some extra water in the trunk, just in case.

Of course, extreme heat and humidity often culminate in severe storms, which can bring down trees and utility lines, and create sudden changes in visibility and roadway conditions. Be on the lookout for fallen branches, and intersections with traffic signals that have lost power (which should be treated as all-way stops). Be patient with changes in traffic patterns, and remember that spending a few extra minutes sitting in your air-conditioned car is probably not such a bad thing after all. Taking these and other precautions can go a long way toward ensuring you – and your car – make it through the summer safely.

And remember: always wear your seatbelt. After all, you never want to encounter a situation in which the roadway is buckled…and you’re not.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Keep the Party off the Road

When members of the Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they knew that sacrifice, bloodshed, and loss of life would follow, as our fledgling nation sought to make the document’s revered language a political reality. To this day, Americans – and none more so than the members of our military and their families – continue to make sacrifices to safeguard the freedom and independence that we have cherished for more than two centuries, and that we celebrate every Independence Day.

What Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and the 53 other signers of the Declaration of Independence could not foresee, of course, is that more than 230 years after the ink had dried on their signatures, more Americans would die each July 4th in traffic crashes involving alcohol than signed the Declaration. On July 4, 2006, we lost 65 people due to crashes in which a driver or pedestrian had alcohol in their system. On July 4, 2007, we lost another 84 people this way, and another 80 in 2008, 90 in 2009, and 62 in 2010.

When countless Americans have made and continue to make the ultimate sacrifice in service of the creation and preservation of our country, why do we seem to accept that each year additional fatalities will result from the celebration of it? Our 2011 Traffic Safety Culture Index found that while 97 percent of Americans view drinking and driving to be “somewhat” or “completely” unacceptable, one-in-seven admit to doing so at least once in the past year.

If all of us do our part, crashes due to impaired driving are highly preventable. If possible, leave the car at home and walk or take public transportation to the festivities. If driving is necessary, designate a sober driver or plan to spend the night. If all else fails and you find yourself stuck at the end of the evening with a car you can’t drive home safely, find out if your local AAA Club is offering a free towing service for the holiday, or call a cab and get the car in the morning. And, since you can’t control the actions of other drivers on the road, protect yourself by always buckling up and remaining alert and attentive behind the wheel.

I know it may not seem like much, but one of the best ways we can honor the sacrifice of our nation’s heroes is to make responsible choices that safeguard the people and communities they have fought and died for. Let’s look out for our fellow Americans this July 4th, and every day, so that we can continue to celebrate together for many years to come.