In politics, everyone’s got an opinion: Should we subsidize school supplies? How should businesses be taxed? Should we legalize medical marijuana? These discussions seem to drag on endlessly.
When it comes to traffic safety matters, however, debates can be a matter of life or death and the final decisions affect everyone.
Every year, over 30,000 people die and hundreds of thousands more face serious and life-altering injuries due to traffic accidents in the United States. That makes driving one of the most dangerous activities. Yet, unlike skydiving or skiing, engaging with traffic isn’t a choice. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking, biking or riding in a car, everyone deals with it—almost daily.
There are accidents involving cyclists, accidents caused by impaired driving, and accidents that result from a driver’s blind spot, to name a few. How we address these issues can vary from state to state.
The Traffic Safety Store has identified three government strategies set to spread throughout the United States. Combined, these actions could prevent tens of thousands of needless accidents. But implementing new traffic laws can be difficult and often spark intense debate.
So where do you stand?
#1 Rearview Camera Mandate
The back-up camera mandate – signed by George W. Bush in 2007 – was created to reduce “back-over” accidents. The law was supposed to go into effect by 2011, but hasn’t yet. In the meantime, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT)
is facing legal trouble.
Back-over accidents – when a car backs into a pedestrian — disproportionately affect children, who often play near designated parking areas. Of the 300 killed and 18,000 injured in back-overs each year, two-thirds of the victims are children and half of them are under five. To reduce these accidents, the mandate requires rear-view surveillance system—which displays the driver’s blind spot on a front panel screen—come standard on all new vehicles.
The law gives the DOT the right to extend the deadline if it “cannot be met.” So far, implementation has been delayed four times. In 2011, the DOT completed a final draft of the rule, but that document has stalled in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for 19 months. On June 20th, The National Highway Traffic Safety Association’s (NHTSA)
exiting Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, sent a letter to Congress stating the mandate will be implemented by 2015. Now it’s up to the incoming Secretary, Anthony Foxx, and the law’s supporters to make sure it actually does.
On September 25, 2013, parents of back-over victims and activist organizations including KidsandCars.org
, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
– filed a lawsuit against the DOT, demanding the back-up camera mandate take effect within 90 days. The NHTSA estimates that during the year and half of delays, 300 have died and almost 8,000 have been injured in preventable back-over accidents. Over a hundred more lives could be lost by 2015. Amid the delay, NHSTA has added back-up camera systems to the list of safety technologies recommended in the New Car Assessment Program
Opponents are concerned new requirements could cost car makers $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion and raise the price of vehicles up to $200. The U.S. auto-industry, after all, is just starting to recover from decades of depression. They also question if the mandate over-legislates safety and if it’s really a solution – rear blind spots are a much bigger problem with SUVs, which are relatively new to consumers. Some say parents and other responsible parties need to do a better job protecting children instead of relying on technology.
Proponents point out all required safety features – including airbags, seat belts, rear-view mirrors and motorcycle helmet – were new and controversial at some point. We’ve adjusted quickly, however, and countless lives have been saved. The back-end camera mandate may put a slight burden on the auto-industry, but it can also saves healthcare dollars.
Source: Digitaltrends.com, The Journal of the American Medical Association; Consumer Reports
#2 3 Foot Bicycle Buffers
Drivers in California will soon be required to maintain a three-foot distance when passing cyclists thanks to AB1371, signed by Governor Jerry Brown on Monday, September 23rd. The law is expected to encourage drivers to slow down and pass cyclists only when it’s safe. It takes effect September of next year.
Previously, drivers were required to pass cyclists at a “safe and reasonable distance.” California’s new law actually defines that distance and slaps a $35-$220 fine on violators. The law isn’t exclusive to California. At least 22 states require a three-foot barrier for drivers passing cyclists.
While there are more cyclists on U.S roadways than ever, there are also fewer reported accidents. The NHTSA says annual cyclist deaths have been reduced nearly 20 percent from 1995 to 2011 and cyclist injuries have dropped 37 percent — from 61,000 to 38,000.
Opponents see the three-foot barrier law as a territorial issue. Many have noted increasingly erratic behavior from cyclists including swerving, lane-hogging, and ignoring traffic signals and stop signs. They believe the law will only encourage unlawful riding, since the cyclist implicitly bares less responsibility. They also claim three feet is difficult, if not impossible, to estimate. The law will be hard to enforce and probably create a false sense of security, which will lead to more accidents.
Proponents say the law gives cyclist a sense of shared ownership over public roads which are paid for with property taxes as well as gas taxes and tolls. They hope the three-foot barrier will make it difficult for drivers to intentionally scare or harass cyclists. Since cyclists are more vulnerable to bodily harm, their safety should be the priority – even if that means inconveniencing drivers.
Source: Patch.com, San Francisco Gate, Los Angelis Times
#3 Designated “Texting Zones”
This week, New York State announced new “texting zones” along thruways and highways. Basically, rest stops and parking areas throughout the state will be designated “safe” for texting. Officials will add 298 signs for 91 texting zones throughout the state.
New York is also ramping up on enforcement. This summer, state police issued 21,580 Texting While Driving (TWD) citations — 365 percent more than last summer – and they’ve started using undercover vehicles known as Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement (CITE) to catch offenders in action. TWD fines also increased throughout the state — a first offense costs as much as $150 and a third costs $400.
While texting-zones don’t require new infrastructure, the extra signage — which indicates the distance to the next safe spot – reminds texters to wait. That combined with the legal crackdown could make pulling over more appealing.
Accident-prone states, including Maryland and Florida, have concluded cellphone bans do little to cut down on TWD. They’re also increasing penalties, but haven’t added campaigns.
Opponents believe texting-zones are pointless at best. They have some grounds for this conclusion. Frequent multitaskers tend to have false confidence in their abilities. That means compulsive texters, the target of texting-zones, are actually the least likely to use them.
At worse, they say, texting areas enable addictive behavior — a compulsive texter is more likely to carry the conversation back onto the road. Furthermore, the current texting-zone strategy doesn’t address urban areas where frequent intersections, pedestrians, bikers and other unpredictable elements make distracted driving particularly dangerous.
Proponents say we need to continue building the message. It took years of persistence from activist groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
and aggressive actions from law enforcement — including sobriety checkpoints, changes to the legal drinking age, and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) crack-downs — to cut down drunk driving. But it did happen. Drunk driving has been at an all-time low and is now considered socially taboo. A multi-pronged strategy could have the same effect on TWD.
Source: Mashables, Planetizen.com
Image source: radio macguys on flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/radiomacguys