Car technology problems have made the news lately, with unintended acceleration causing accidents and death. Other technology problems, such as keyless ignitions malfunctioning and distractions from onboard media have called attention to newer dangers for drivers. But according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), those aren’t the top concerns that pose risks to drivers. The same old risks that have always been dangerous are still at the top of the list. They are driving without seatbelts and driving drunk.
Also at the top of the agency’s list are behaviors that have nothing to do with new car technology. They are the same old bad driving behaviors that have been around forever, such as aggressive driving, speeding, and tailgating. According to the NHTSA, the most serious issues that affect drivers’ safety aren’t about a car’s technology, but have everything to do with the behaviors and choices of the person behind the wheel. In 2009, people who died in traffic accidents numbered 33,808 deaths, the NHTSA reports, which is the lowest number since 1975. But the agency feels that number is still too high, and wants drivers to improve.
Buckling Up Is Still A Problem for 15 Percent of Drivers.
It shouldn’t be such a difficult thing to do, or to understand—buckling up that seatbelt saves lives. Yet 15 percent of drivers still won’t wear their seatbelt when driving, leading to thousands of preventable deaths. In 2009, over 11,000 people died in traffic accidents as a result of not wearing seatbelts, the NHTSA reports. Many of those drivers who hadn’t buckled up were also driving at night.
Not Driving Drunk Hasn’t Sunk In for Some.
Thousands of people continue to die as a result of drunk driving, the NHTSA says. In 2009, over 7,000 drivers died of drunk driving. The agency reports that number represents more than one third of drivers who died in 2009, which totaled 21,798. That number has decreased since 1982, a time when almost half of drivers who died were driving drunk, but the number hasn’t improved much since the mid-1990s. Added to the risky choices drivers make is the well publicized problem of distracted driving. The NHTSA reports that in 2009, 5,474 people died in distracted driving crashes, with roughly 18 percent of those accidents involving a cell phone used while driving. The agency reports that young men between 18 and 34 years old are prone to these three risky behaviors.
Research To Understand How Much A Driver Can Handle.
The NHTSA is conducting research that looks at cognitive distraction, seeking to provide answers as to how much drivers can mentally process while driving, and still stay safe. Research already available has shown that even though drivers may use hands-free devices, the act of doing something other than concentrating on driving poses a safety risk. The driver talking on a hands-free device is distracted, and not paying full attention to driving even though eyes may be on the road and hands on the wheel. Studies seek to show just how much people can really handle.
The bottom line, the agency says, is that safety comes down to the choices and behavior of the person who gets behind the wheel. The responsibility lies with the person driving to pay attention. Part of that is a shift in cultural attitudes, what people as a society think is acceptable. The agency points to the shift culturally related to drunk driving. In decades past, it was more acceptable to have a few drinks and drive. Today, societal attitudes have changed, and while some drivers still drive drunk, the practice is not acceptable in current American culture. The NHTSA hopes the same shift will happen with cell phone use and texting. Even though laws may ban texting and talking on a cell phone, the agency feels real change will happen when society puts pressure on those who chose to act in a manner that puts others at risk by talking or texting while driving.
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