Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Driving Home the Point

     I just drove home from South Carolina, via Raleigh, NC, which is about a 750-mile haul. The northern part of the trip routes along I95 through Richmond, Washington and Baltimore. Thankfully, I survived the journey . . . sometimes I wondered if I would.

     Last year 37,133 people lost their lives on the roads of America. This is actually down a little bit from the 37,806 fatalities in 2016, but otherwise it's higher than anytime in the last ten years.

     We are all appropriately horrified when we hear about the 79 people (at last count) who lost their lives last week in California's Camp Fire. But in that same week over 700 Americans were killed in car accidents.

     Despite whatever horrors we hear about in the news -- Iraq, Afghanistan, hurricanes, fires, gang violence, mass shootings -- many more people die on our roads, day in day out, week after week, year after year. The fact is, the most immediate and deadly danger you face is right there in front of you -- the much more familiar threat of a deadly car accident.

     So perhaps our political outrage should not be directed at the Russians, the Chinese or the terrorists, or the Democrats, Republicans or the "crooks" in Washington. It should be directed at the high degree of lawlessness on American roads. People routinely drive 10, 15, even 20 miles over the speed limit. And as I so recently witnessed, a significant portion of drivers tailgate, pass on the right, weave in and out of traffic, change lanes without signaling. And god only knows how many are doing all this while they're munching on some cookies or fiddling with their iPhone.

     According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the top three reasons for car accidents are: inattentiveness, speeding, and tailgating.

     Inattentiveness can be caused by texting or eating while driving. But the main cause of inattentiveness is fatigue. Nearly half of drivers admitted to driving while drowsy, and two out of every ten drivers admitted they had fallen asleep while driving! Inattentiveness also comes from drivers being emotionally disturbed, sometimes exacerbated by perfectly legal substances like nicotine, caffeine or prescription medications.

     Also, when you change drivers, do you check the mirrors? And do you regularly clean your windshield -- both outside and inside? A dirty windshield or misaligned mirror can cause driver distraction.

     As far as tailgating goes, you're supposed to adhere to the two-second rule when following another vehicle, meaning you travel far enough behind the car in front so it takes two seconds to catch up. So obviously, the faster you go, the more space you need to leave. You should increase your following space to three seconds if it's foggy, raining or snowing, or if you're following a tractor trailer.

     You shouldn't drive side by side to another vehicle, either, for pretty much the same reason -- no room for error. If cars are side by side and a driver decides to change lanes, there is no room to maneuver and no time to do it. So word of caution: When merging or changing lanes, always use your turn signal, and don't rely on your mirrors alone -- look quickly to the side to make sure your blind spot is clear. And by the way, as a defensive measure, do not drive in someone else's blind spot.

     As far as speeding goes, if you're interested in saving gas -- and the planet -- remember that the typical car gets the best gas mileage at 45 to 55 mph. Once you hit 60 mph and beyond, gas mileage deteriorates. So at 70 mph, for example, you're getting 15 - 20% fewer miles per gallon than you are at 50 or 55 mph.

     The crucial safety issue with speeding is that it cuts your reaction time if something goes wrong. At 55 mph, by the time you recognize a problem, react and brake, it will take about six seconds and 100 yards to stop. At 70 mph, it will take the same six seconds, but at that faster speed you've gone 150 yards -- or 50 more yards to run into something or someone.

     There's another reason why speeding is so deadly. What causes injury and death is the force of impact against the human body, which is in direct proportion to the weight of a vehicle (which is why all other things being equal (which they rarely are) a heavier car is safer than a lighter vehicle). But the force of impact has a squared relationship with speed, which is why, no matter how equal or unequal everything else is, you're a lot more likely to suffer severe injury or death at 70 mph than you are at 55 or 60 mph.

     Why otherwise law-abiding people ignore traffic laws is beyond me -- except maybe, most of the time, they get away with it. People rarely get a ticket, and when they do the policeman usually drops it down to a lesser offense. There's no downside to breaking the traffic law . . . until there is.

     But no matter how much of a hurry you're in, keep this is mind. According to traffic experts, on a 10-mile trip with a speed limit of 45 mph, going 60 should theoretically save you about 3 minutes. However, if there are lights, which are often timed to match speed limits, the speeding driver ends up getting caught in more red lights, and perhaps more traffic as well.

     The speeder ends up saving less than 1 minute on the trip, even though they're going 15 mph over the limit. Is this really worth the gamble -- one minute against your life?


DJan said...

I so agree, Tom. People seem much scarier when behind the wheel. Perfectly reasonable people change when driving, it seems. I'm glad you made it home safe and sound. And yes, I think about it all the time when I'm driving. Now that I'm retired, I take the bus often since I'm not in a hurry.

Anonymous said...

May I suggest you recheck your facts:
"700 Americans were killed in car accidents"
This information is incorrect.
It is the illegal aliens or undocumented workers that are having and causing these accidents. They do not know how to drive on our roads nor do they obey our laws. You literally take your life into your own hands each and every time you get behind the wheel and drive on American highways.
Next time you see a driver tailgating, texting, speeding etc. try to look at their face. You'd be very surprised at what you will find.

Trudi said...

From personal unfortunate history... when you are turning right onto a busy road, you are looking left. As you see your merge spot approach, remember to LOOK RIGHT FOR A PEDESTRIAN! This is taught in drivers' ed... or it use to be but it is mostly forgotten.

BTW Anon... how do you know, from a fleeting glance if a driver is here legally or not?

gigihawaii said...

Here in Hawaii, there are car and pedestrian accidents all the time. It is illegal to use your cellphone while driving and crossing the street. David was ticketed when the cop saw him pick up his cellphone at a traffic light even though the light was red.

Anonymous said...

I retired from Pennsylvania to Nebraska. One thing I notice about driving in Nebraska is the large number of tailgaters. It drives me nuts! One time while driving on a country road, I was being tailgated by the only other vehicle in sight. I finally pulled over to let him pass. That driver then stopped his pickup to ask if everything was alright! (Known as" Nebraska Nice" I suppose.)

After reading your blog entry, I googled "tailgating Nebraska" to see if I could find figures on accidents caused by tailgating in this state. Many entries! All about eating out of the back of your car before the football games.


Barbara - said...

And you can tell by their face if the are legal or not or citizens or not? I drive cross country on a regular basis. The worst drivers by far are young and middle aged white boys in their shiny new cars. Said bu someone whi loves where 70 mph on highways and many divided roads are the norm.

Barbara - said...

As the speeder in the bunch who lives where 70 mph is the norm and drive on the Capitol beltway for 25 years, you left off my favorite. People who sit in the left lane at 55 because they "can" or because they are going the speed limit. The left lane is for passing, people!

Anonymous said...

Most of the bad drivers I see are young Caucasian teens!

DUTA said...

In my neck of the woods, only if a car hits a pedestrian and kills him is news; a car hits a car is not news unless in the hit car was a family and they all got killed. Recently, there have been several cases of killed families. So, we are past statistics here.

The name of the game is Discipline, but there's no discipline nowadays, neither on the road, nor in schools or all the other places. Certainly not in the USA where they won't even accept a democratically elected president.

Perhaps, free public transportation might ease the situation.

Barbara said...

Good time to be reminded of the facts. Also to remember a deadly accident can happen anywhere - even 5 miles from home.

JustThinking said...

An aside - I highly recommend 301, from just north of Richmond and enjoy 4 lane, less traffic and the farms in the Delmarva -

Tom Sightings said...

I'm pretty sure that no ethnic group, gender or age category has a monopoly on dangerous driving . . . and I'm all in favor of more/better/cheaper public transportation.

Anonymous said...

Yo, I said: "Next time you see a driver tailgating, texting, speeding etc. try to look at their face. You'd be very surprised at what you will find"

Nowhere did I say what the results were.
If you can't understand the written word, then that might explain most drivers inability to drive.

Olga said...

We took I-95 once for our trip to Florida and that was it. Way too scary.

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Wisewebwoman said...

I did some long haul driving over the summer, I think I had logged about 5,000km in a matter of a month and was seriously appalled at some of the maneuvering of the other cars, RVs and trucks on the road. Very little room for even a small error. Passing when they shouldn't have on a 2 laner. I remember a good rule of thumb for me was if you see the other driver in the vehicle coming towards you, it's too late to pass. So many disregard this, endangering everyone they're passing along with the driver coming towards them Forcing others to create space for them or head for the soft shoulder.

Not surprised at all at the stats.


Anonymous said...

Tom, Enjoyed your commentary. I drive from Baltimore to Florida quite often. When I get south of Richmond I can feel the stress leave my body until I get to the Miami area where some of the strangest driving I have ever seen happens. People on I-95 outside of Miami just stop in the travel lanes to hold conversations when they see someone they know. Then there is the driving in the left lane to cut across 4 lanes to take the exit they are about to miss even though the past 3 miles had signs saying the exit was coming up. Of course in Baltimore I need to look at passing drivers to see if they are holding a phone or gun. I passed a guy who was cleaning his pistol while he was driving. I called the police with a tag and description but who knows what happened since I exited immediately and took the back roads.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Tom I often make a similar point about car deaths in comparison to air crashes. A very expensive security system is now at every international airport globally and the inconvenience of it is sad because many crashed to this day are pilot error. I do not understand why were all accept road carnage but worry about flight risk? And like sheep we follow the rules that security demands. Heaven forbid you forgot you had a sealed bottle of water in the carry on going through the scan. That is cause to pull the bag over and put you on a naughty list. The water is tossed and you are then cleared security and free to buy another water bottle at airport inflated price and put it in your carry on. I am so amused at the absurdity. In fact I have noticed every major airport now has you arrive early and from security it sends you through a maize of shops to pass the time.

And to go off topic huge gun related deaths daily in US is also depressing as are prescription drug deaths.

Back to cars Tesla wants to have us all get used to automobiles with sensors and cameras that will supposedly be safer on the road. I guess we must trust those who control the computers ?