Toolkit: Q & A

What is Put The Brakes On Fatalities Day?

Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day has been established in 2001 to focus national attention on reducing traffic fatalities on American highways. In 2011, approximately 32,300- people died in traffic crashes. That's was way too many. It's time we all got together to reduce that number. The goal is to encourage everyone - whether as a driver, passenger, pedestrian or cyclist - to take extra caution this October 10th to prevent crashes from occurring.

What do you hope to accomplish?

First, it's important to educate the public about the problem and essential role they play in developing solutions. For 2012, our focus is to reduce distractions thus our theme is - “Drive to Arrive - Don’t be Driven to Distraction." Many people would be surprised to learn that there is a traffic fatality nearly every 16 minutes in this country and that motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death for everyone 3 through 34 years (based on 2006 NHTASA data). But it's equally important to let people know how they can greatly reduce their risk of becoming a statistic by taking simple pro-active steps. There is good news to report that the number of fatalities in 2011 declined to 32, 310 and is its lowest number since 1961. We want to promote more safe driving behavior that will continue this trend.

What is the most important thing people can do?

Drive as if your life depends on it. A high percentage of crashes are caused by driver error. We want drivers to pay attention when they drive and particularly to eliminate distractions such as talking on their cell phone and text messaging.  We also want drivers to make use of safety equipment such as seat belts and air bags. Research shows that seat belts can reduce the risk of fatal injury to passenger car occupants by 45 percent and risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 percent yet approximately 20 percent of Americans still don’t buckle up. So wearing a seat belt is the easiest and most first important step. In 2008, if all vehicle passengers over age 4 had worn seat belts an additional 4,152 lives could have been saved by this safety device alone. Information on seat belt and other public related safety programs can be found on the National Highway Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) web site (http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/portal/site/nhtsa/menuitem.6a6eaf83cf719ad24ec86e10dba046a0/).

For children, it's extremely important never to place an infant seat in front of an air bag and to ensure that kids sit in an appropriate child safety seat until about 12 years old (NHTSA recommends). Most people would be shocked to learn that 74 children under age 4 killed in crashes in 2008 were completely unrestrained. An estimated 244 lives under 5 years old were saved in 2008 by child restraint use. Over the period 1975 through 2008, an estimated 8,959 lives were saved by child restraints (child safety seats or adult seat belts).

What are some other important elements?

Poor road conditions, obsolete designs and run off the road crashes contribute to highway deaths annually. In 2008, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reported that roadway departures accounted for 52% of the fatal crashes in the USA (19,794). Also, it was reported that in all motor vehicle traffic crashes 2.35 million people were injured. The public needs to let their elected officials know that continuing to improve the safety of their local roads is an important priority for them. Technical assistance/tools are available from the FHWA (http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/roadway_dept/ ) to assist transportation practitioners, decision makers and others in preventing and reducing the severity of roadway departure crashes. Developing better roadways (addressing safety edges, passing lanes, rumble strips and stripes and high friction surfaces) better signage, building roundabouts, removing hazards and creating turn lanes at busy intersections are just a few examples of how communities can make their roads safer. A comprehensive maintenance program addressing all roadway elements can lead to reducing crashes and in some cases fatalities. 

They should also check vehicle maintenance on a regular basis, such as proper tire air pressure, so their vehicles will function at their highest capacity. Motorists should also replace worn windshield wipers and replace any burned out lights as quickly as possible. Slowing down and driving the speed limit in highway construction zones is a must and another important piece of advice.

The latest advances in vehicle safety technology, such as air bags or anti-lock brakes, are continually developed, but the public needs to know how to utilize that technology correctly. Moreover, an educated public will be able to make more informed decisions about how to regulate and manage this new technology. For example, there are studies and a growing body of evidence (http://news.rutgers.edu/medrel/news-releases/2009/03/cell-phone-studies-w-20090304).that show cell phone use while driving cause a distraction and impairs driving ability. While driving cell phones should not be used for talking or text messaging. However, when stopped in a safe location there are cases where cell phones used properly can save lives when they are being used to call for help.

The Federal Motor Carriers Administration (FMCA) (http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety-security/csa2010/home.htm ) created “Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 to develop more effective and efficient methods they could with industry and state partners achieve reducing truck crashes, fatalities and injuries. There were 4,229 ┬álarge truck fatalities in 2008.

Is this new safety day focused just on drivers?

Not at all. Everyone has an important role to play. People who use motorcycles, bicycles, scooters or in-lane skates should always wear an appropriate helmet. There were 5.290 (an increase of 2% 0ver from 2007) motor cyclists and 716 pedalcyclists killed in 2008. In addition, 4,378 pedestrians lost their lives. All drivers also need to follow the rules of the road. Cyclists should signal with their arm or use turn signals before turning.

Nearly 80 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred at non-intersection locations in 1999. It was reported in 2005 that 4,881 pedestrian fatalities and 64,000 pedestrian injuries had occurred or on an average one pedestrian was killed every 108 minutes. Pedestrians should cross at intersections, and stop, and look left, right, left before crossing the street. Joggers should run against traffic.

Parents should not let children under 10 years old cross streets alone. Also, parents can work with school transportation officials to develop safer transportation policies, such as offering a presentation on proper bus safety for kindergarten and first grade students, creating safer student drop-off zones or increasing the number of crossing guards.

It seems like there are a number of different safety observances throughout the year. Will one more really make a difference?

That is a good question! Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day has the potential to bring together concerned individuals and parents, traffic safety organizations, government agencies, professional engineers, health care practitioners, law enforcement officers, educators, construction workers, insurance and auto organizations, and others in private industry to affect change. This program is a good fit to be included in states’ highway strategic safety plans. We hope you will get involved and if you have questions contact us. We must make the public more knowledgeable about this terrible epidemic of fatalities on our highways and streets as noted in a recent AAA study Traffic Safety Culture in the United States: Research Update . 

The bottom line is that the number of people killed in traffic crashes every year has hit a plateau of about 42,000 (average over the last eight years) and has only reduced to 37,261 last year in 2008 and estimated to be nearly 32,300 in 2011.  Prior to 2008, the number of annual fatalities had remained steady for several years. We won't reduce that number until we decide to make the necessary changes in behavior, roadway design and vehicles to improve safety and reduce the number of crashes.

The more we can educate the public about this nationwide epidemic, the more likely the day will come when we won’t have to imagine a day with zero traffic fatalities. It will become a reality - but only if we as a nation commit to making traffic safety a top priority. The more we can educate the public about this nationwide epidemic, the more likely the day will come when we won't have to imagine a day with zero traffic fatalities. It can become a reality - but only if we as a nation commit to making traffic safety a top transportation priority.