Traffic Safety

With the holidays fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to clear out the ol’ CSG Transportation inbox so that we can make a fresh start in the New Year. In doing so, I ran across a number of recent reports and news items that may be of interest and that may provide worthwhile reading should you have any downtime in between football bowl games in the weeks ahead. They address many of the themes we’ve examined here over the last year and look ahead to what might lay in store in 2011 on issues like federal transportation programs, the condition of America's infrastructure, gas taxes, highway finance alternatives, high-speed rail, freight transportation, transportation and the environment and intelligent transportation systems.

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles had a problem. In 2005, federal regulations required all convictions and tickets for commercial drivers to be entered into the Bureau of Motor Vehicles computer system within 30 days. Few courts in the state were sending their information electronically. Most of them were either faxing or mailing in rulings. That meant 10,000 paper orders coming in each week had to be entered by a clerk into the bureau’s computer system.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) today updated the status of its list of most wanted safety improvements that state governments can make. The list includes requiring booster seats for young children, primary seat belt laws, graduated licensing laws for young drivers, hard core drinking driver program elements, cell phone use restrictions for young drivers and passenger restriction laws for teen drivers. The NTSB also added a new issue area they’re now tracking: motorcycle safety and helmet laws. While a handful of states have made significant progress in adopting laws in all these areas, many states have not yet adopted them despite their proven ability to save lives, the NTSB reported.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced this week that highway deaths in 2009 fell to the lowest number since 1950. That happened even while vehicle miles traveled increased. Last year saw the lowest fatality and injury rates ever recorded (1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled). The number of people injured in motor vehicle crashes declined for the 10th straight year. Alcohol impaired driving fatalities declined by 7.4 percent. All of this evidence points to successful federal and state efforts to make the nation’s roads safer.

A survey released today by AAA and Seventeen magazine reports that nearly nine in ten teenage drivers have engaged in distracted-driving behaviors - such as texting and talking on cell phones, adjusting radios, driving with four or more passengers, and applying makeup - even though they know that their actions increase their risk of an accident.

Using a mobile device while driving - either talking on a cellphone or sending text messages - has significant negative effects on driver performance.  The National Safety Council estimates that 1.6 million crashes annually are the result of drivers using mobile devices.  States are combating driver distraction with laws limited the use of mobile devices by drivers.

Last week, I spoke with Mike Chalmers of USA Today for an article that ran in Wednesday's paper about states seeking alternatives to roadside memorials. Chalmers wrote about how Delaware has a memorial garden at a state rest area that provides a safe and tasteful alternative to the makeshift roadside memorials that honor victims of fatal traffic accidents but that sometimes pose safety hazards themselves. I told Chalmers that states will likely look to duplicate what Delaware is doing because it provides a sensible solution to what has proven to be a difficult balancing act for states.

Intelligent transportation system technologies—everything from traffic cameras to real time road and traffic information lines—being implemented in many states hold the promise of making travel safer, more efficient and less impactful on the environment.

Today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced new guidelines that prohibit texting by drivers of commercial vehicles. This prohibition is effective immediately, and truck and bus drivers may be subject to civil and criminal penalties of up to $2750.  This new ban is part of a series of actions by the Department to combat distracted driving.   

“We want the drivers of big rigs and buses and those who share the roads with them to be safe,” said Secretary LaHood in a press release.  “This is an important safety...

 Since the use of mobile phones adversely affects driver performance, many states are now placing restrictions or prohibitions on their use.

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