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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Thursday, December 13, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

Better driving key to safety

I applaud auto manufacturers for the continuous safety upgrades made to their products.  And it’s not just the carmakers’ collective conscience at work — government mandates and consumer demands influence the ongoing safety campaign as well.

Those safety concerns exist with good premise — year after year, U.S vehicle deaths exceed 40,000 individuals, and for 2017 the number is 40,100.  That translates to well over 100 deaths per day from auto accidents — a number that begs for attention to safety.

Since the mid-1960s, we have seen a steady stream of safety features appearing on the cars we drive.  Seat belts, shoulder belts, radial tires, disc brakes, anti-lock brakes, traction control, air bags, improved lighting, backup cameras, adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, crumple-zone construction and many other safety features have contributed to cars that help drivers avoid accidents and survive them when they happen. 

Still, when a crash occurs, nearly 90% of resulting deaths are from an occupant’s head coming into high-velocity contact with something inside the vehicle.  Automakers know this, and that is why they are trying to perfect side airbags and air curtains to further protect the drivers’ noggins.  Regarding this phenomenon, I still maintain that thousands of lives would be saved if we all wore helmets while driving.  Believe me, I don’t want to wear a helmet in my car, but if it’s a good idea for motorcyclists, given the automobile head-injury statistics, it’s an even better idea for car and truck drivers.  There are only a couple of thousand motorcycle deaths annually, and only half of them are from head injury.  If we put our efforts (or helmets) where the majority of vehicle deaths occur (autos), we could substantially reduce that 40,000+ figure.  But I digress.

While the automotive industry endeavors to make vehicles safer, I suggest improvements in an even more important safety factor — the driver.  To me, better driving is the answer to improved safety on the road.  Most accidents occur when a driver has a lapse of attention, so I strive to avoid those lapses.  Even if my vehicle contains the latest safety features, I prioritize accident avoidance over accident survival.

Fighting distraction is a good starting point to driver improvement.  Survival is a good result, but I believe that avoiding distraction might allow one to see the danger, and miss the crash.

The Idaho DOT recently announced that the death toll on Idaho’s Highway 95 has dropped significantly of late, and credited road improvements for the reduction.  Road improvements are important, but I believe that drivers have the most power to continue the trend of less wrecks.  In fact, one interviewed ISP officer gave some credit for the current reduction to drivers driving well.  I am thankful to him for realizing that drivers have the power to do better, and that while much of the blame for vehicle deaths should go to drivers, they deserve credit when figures improve.

In a recent column, I reminded drivers that in addition to normal vehicle maintenance they should always “check the nut behind the wheel.”  A conscious effort to be fit and ready for driving is imperative to safety — drivers should strive to be well-rested, alert and knowledgeable of road rules, while maintaining a vigilant, defensive state of mind.

Good roads and safe cars are nice, but safe drivers are even more important!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.