Step into almost any late model vehicle and everywhere you look there is technology. The latest models have automatic braking, lane departure warning systems, front and rear collision avoidance systems and an untold number of other safety features. So why are we still dying at an unprecedented rate on our highways?
Wednesday, the National Safety Council estimated 40,200 people died in automobile accidents in 2016, that’s a 6 percent increase over 2015. If those estimates prove true, it will be the first time in 10 years that more than 40,000 people have died in a single year. To put this statistic in some context, in 2015, the increase was 7 percent making the two year increase the largest in more than 50 years. Georgia has seen a 34 percent increase in vehicle deaths from 2014 to 2016 according to the National Safety Council. Georgia had the fifth highest percentage increase in the nation. And the death toll comes in third behind Texas and California.
The big question is why? In every silver cloud there are pockets of lead. Gas prices are lower and the economy is better so people are driving and more deaths as a percentage of miles driven are up.
But there are other aspects of technology that’s grabbing the attention of drivers. Aside from texting, there’s talking, instant messaging and every other sort of app on the market that lure drivers’ eyes from the road for split seconds at a time. Young and older drivers alike are addicted to their smartphones and can’t resist the dings, pings and rattles the devices make when a new message arrives.
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What’s the cost of all of this? The National Safety Council says, “The estimated cost of motor-vehicle deaths, injuries, and property damage in 2016 was $432.5 billion, an increase of 12 percent from 2015. The costs include wage and productivity losses, medical expenses, administrative expenses, employer costs, and property damage.”
But there are other culprits that have nothing to do with technology. Speed still kills. Drunk drivers still kill. In a New York Times story, David Brown, a research associate at the University of Alabama’s Center for Advanced Public Safety, studied the state’s 2016 traffic fatality reports and found an increase in fatalities involving high-speed crashes.
“Total crashes were up less than 5 percent, but fatalities were up 25 percent. I think speeding is the No. 1 problem.? Brown also noted that there were some times of day when when there were only “one or two troopers on duty in a county, so you can speed, and there’s no one there to deter it.”
Georgia has almost 300,000 miles of highways and last year the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the Georgia State Patrol didn’t have “enough troopers to patrol the roads 24 hours a day.”
That’s not to say the roads go unpatrolled. Local police departments and deputy sheriffs pick up the slack, but, according to the AJC report “troopers assigned to the 20 counties of Troop B (Troop B covers 20 counties in northeast Georgia) worked almost 11,800 crashes, 131 of them with fatalities, and made 1,780 drunken driving arrests last year (2015). At the same time, however, there were not enough troopers to respond to 2,400 reported accidents.”
The bottom line is this, people still drive too fast, are distracted and in some cases, such as the Gray bypass that has claimed three lives since it opened in mid-December 2016, have design imperfections that didn’t take into account human imperfections. Though the intersections where the collisions took place have signs that say “Cross traffic does not stop” written in bold on an orange backdrop, some drivers have either thought it was a four-way stop or didn’t see the sign — leading to deadly consequences.
The answer? Getting drivers to slow down, not drive inebriated and to ignore their electronic devices is a tall order, however, technology could also save the day. More Sunday.