Studies highlight increases in driving deaths, risky driving habits
February 16, 2017 12:30 AM
Rookie teenage drivers have long been seen as the worst motorists on the road, but now there’s evidence that their older cousins - millennials - may be the most reckless people behind the wheel.
By Ed Blazina / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Moon police Sgt. Doug Ogden didn’t need a pair of national reports released Wednesday to update him about bad drivers. He sees them on the road every day.
On the same day the National Safety Council reported that traffic deaths for 2015 and 2016 increased by a total of 14 percent — the highest two-year increase since 1963-64 — an AAA poll showed that more than 67 percent of drivers admitted texting, speeding or running a red light in the past last month. Not surprisingly, the annual AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety poll found those ages 19 to 24 were the least cautious group, with more than 88 percent of them saying they were involved in such risky behavior in the previous 30 days.
“Those study results would tend to validate what I see every day,” said Sgt. Ogden, coordinator of the West Hills DUI Task Force. “It’s easy to say the younger group is more dangerous, but it cuts across all age and race groups.
“All humans tend to be unsafe.”
Whether it’s something overt such as being intoxicated, high on drugs or texting or talking on the phone, or something simple such as reaching for the radio or glove compartment, Sgt. Ogden said, many drivers are distracted.
“The vast majority of accidents — at the bottom line, they’re almost all related to distracted driving,” he said.
Lori Cook, an AAA safety adviser in Independence, Ohio, compared poor driving with cigarette smoking: The same way the first cigarette likely won’t cause a problem, she said, a driver might not have an accident the first time texting, speeding or running a red light, but over time such behavior leads to a crash.
“Poor driving is a bad habit,” Ms. Cook said. “We have to convince people [that risky behavior] is bad the first time so they won’t do it.”
Tim Rogers, president of Rogers Driving School in Ross, said he places special emphasis on distracted driving with the 700 to 800 people his school trains every year. He purposely shuts off his phone in front of students whether he has them in the car or the classroom and points out poor driving from other drivers when he takes students on the road.
“[Distracted driving] is something we spend a lot of time on,” Mr. Rogers said. “Driving is a very active thing that you’re doing. Accidents can happen in a microsecond, even if you’re paying attention.”
Safety officials are concerned because the two-year trend of traffic-death increases comes after deaths had been dropping since 2007, as a result of vehicle safety improvements.They say increased education and enforcement — “People become better drivers when they see police around,” Sgt. Ogden said — remain the keys to changing driving habits.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation regularly teams with AAA, local police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups for education programs such as Park the Phone, encouraging drivers to shut off their devices while driving.
“We want to make it our priority to drive this message home,” said Yasmeen Manyisha, press safety officer for PennDOT District 11. “With younger drivers, we’re teaching them good behavior. With older drivers, we’re reminding them.
“But at the end of the day, it is their responsibility to control their behavior.”
Ms. Cook said young drivers tend to respond best to lessons about consequences, but the key is to get those points across before they have a personal experience.
“It’s sad [that classroom lessons] sometimes don’t help until something tragic happens,” she said. “We had one girl in class, her face turned white when she heard that if someone was killed by a driver texting, the driver could get five years in jail. She didn’t know there could be jail time at all.”
Sgt. Ogden said Pennsylvania’s move to a graduated license with more restrictions on those 16 to 18 years old has been helpful. Better examples from parents and other adults also would be helpful, Ms. Cook said.
“You have to lead by example at some point,” she said. “My bosses know if they call while I’m in the car, they won’t hear back from me until I’m parked somewhere. And we need to make it unacceptable to text while driving.”
Ed Blazina: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1470.
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