The following is an interview with Douglas R. Horn, where he offers solutions to advance driver safety, including a reduction of traffic fatalities.
Q. What is the biggest challenge faced by traffic safety experts?
A. There are many, but in my opinion the biggest challenge is how do we reverse the trend of a growing number of distracted, impatient, and aggressive drivers. Ten years ago perhaps 3-4% of the drivers on the road at any one time were considered “dangerous”, now studies show that over 25% of the drivers on the road are dangerous. Unfortunately, we have a circumstance where previously safe drivers are now becoming dangerous drivers.
Q. Is this reflected in the traffic fatality rates?
A. Yes. While there are some states where the fatality rates have remained steady, the 2015 data shows that Missouri traffic fatalities were up significantly. Although I do not yet have the 2016 complete data, I know 2016 Missouri roadway fatalities were higher than 2015. Obviously, we are going in the wrong direction. I believe the major reason for the rise in fatalities is the growing number of distracted, impatient, and aggressive drivers, especially drivers who are using cell phones.
Note that prior to 2015, Missouri fatality rates had been steadily declining traffic fatality rates over a 10 year period dating back to 2005.
Q. What was the reason for the steady decline in traffic fatalities prior to 2015?
A. Missouri and other states have done a pretty good job with what traffic safety professionals call the “3Es”, engineering, enforcement, and education.
Over the last 25 years we have made great improvements in engineering safer roads and cars. For instance, the development of the air bag made a significant impact in protecting against fatalities. Also, traffic safety enforcement has gotten much more sophisticated. Our lawmakers have passed stricter traffic safety laws and police have been very diligent and creative in enforcing those laws.
Finally, we have used traffic safety campaigns to educate the public as to the legal consequences of dangerous driving. “Click It or Ticket” or “Drive Sober or get Pulled Over” are example of using mass media campaigns to make people think twice about engaging in bad driving habits or conduct.
Q. What should we be doing now to reduce traffic fatalities?
A. Because engineering and enforcement options have proved less effective in reducing the number of distracted, impatient, and aggressive drivers, I think state transportation authorities and officials should concentrate on implementing comprehensive driver safety communications programs that influence all drivers, not just outlaw drivers, to drive defensively.
Q. Do you have a specific recommendation?
Yes, states can use the Drive By Example platform to develop a comprehensive driver safety communications program. The Drive By Example platform is a perfect fit for states to combat the new universe of roadway risk because it is built on a clear, concise, and memorable driver safety that influences drivers to protect themselves, their passengers, and others on the road by driving defensively.
By putting defensive driving on the center stage of a state’s strategic traffic safety plan, we can reduce fatalities and set the foundation for driving culture change.
Q. How is the Drive By Example message delivered?
A. While mass media and other traditional campaign activities are important delivery tools for traffic safety communications programs, they only reach a fraction of drivers. In order to have the full effect, states need to use Drive By Example as the basis for developing driver safety partnerships with their regional and local driving safety stakeholders.
For instance, school districts, local law enforcement, hospitals, physician groups, and private corporations represent excellent opportunities for driving safety partnerships. In this way your safety partners can not only effectively deliver the Drive By Example message to their communities, but also help keep driver safety high on the public consciousness. This is how we are going to reverse the trend of rising roadway fatalities.
Q. With dwindling budgets and resources, will states be able to afford new efforts like you are proposing?
A. A comprehensive driver safety communications program like I am proposing is not meant to be a new expenditure item. By using Drive By Example to create partnerships, the state can utilize the networks of their partners to advance driver safety. Also, the state can administer and coordinate the deployment of Drive By Example using existing personnel and resources.