The Key to Safer Roads?

The two biggest highway-safety issues right now, as far as Washington is concerned, are runaway Toyotas and distracted driving. But what if these aren’t the most important factors driving the nation’s annual highway death toll, which averages about 100 fatalities a day? That’s the view of Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, who says the U.S. Transportation Department, Congress and the media have gotten sidetracked by issues like texting while driving. View Full Image Associated Press Campaigns against distracted driving are not the best way to reduce highway fatalities, according to an insurance industry group. .”There’s nothing rational about the way we set highway safety priorities,” Mr. Lund says in the Insurance Institute’s Aug. 21 “Status Report” newsletter. Mr. Lund’s organization is the safety research and advocacy arm of the insurance industry. The IIHS has been critical of the government’s highway safety policies over the past few years, usually arguing that the government wasn’t moving fast enough to require better crash-prevention technology from auto makers. Mr. Lund and the Insurance Institute also say recent laws banning motorists from using mobile phones behind the wheel don’t correlate with a significant reduction in accidents. “You’d think from the media coverage, congressional hearings, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s focus in recent months that separating drivers from their phones would all but solve the public-health problem of crash deaths and injuries,” he wrote. “It won’t.” More on WSJ.com Drivers Seat: News, views and advice about cars .Car crashes are the No. 1 cause of accidental death in the U.S., by a wide margin, though last year marked a record low in U.S. highway fatalities. As for the Toyota sudden acceleration uproar, Mr. Lund says, “a lot of this looks like it may be pedal error”—meaning human error related to design—”so it’s very important that we have research on how pedals could be redesigned.” Congress and the Transportation department have focused more attention on potential problems with vehicle electronics. The Transportation Department responded to Mr. Lund’s comments by taking issue with his analysis of data, and his view that the government is sidetracked on secondary issues. “Safety is the Department of Transportation’s number one priority, which is why we are aggressively and urgently tackling a number of risks to drivers’ safety. We are going to continue taking drunk drivers off the road, getting people to put down their phones and other distractions, making sure cars and trucks are safe to drive, and doing whatever else is necessary to keep Americans safe behind the wheel,” a DOT spokeswoman said in a statement. The DOT also challenged Mr. Lund’s criticism of its campaign against texting and driving. “In 2008 alone, nearly 6,000 people were killed and more than half a million were injured in crashes involving distracted driving,” the DOT spokeswoman said. The problem for Mr. Lund and the government is that some ideas for cutting that toll may not be that popular. “We know enforcement of speed limits is very important,” Mr. Lund says. About a third of all auto-crash deaths are linked to excessive speed. But states are moving to raise speed limits, not lower them. About 750 people a year die in crashes that involve motorists running stop lights. Mr. Lund supports the use cameras that identify people who run red lights. The Institute has published research that red-light cameras reduce stop light violations by about 40%. A 2008 study by Rice University found that the total number of crashes at intersections monitored by red-light cameras didn’t decrease significantly.

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Source: AAA Safety

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