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Directions in Highway Safety Cover - Fall 2011 Download Newsletter pdf
[2 MB, 12 pgs.]

Fall 2011 | Vol. 13 | No. 3

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IIHS Report Outlines Tried and True Highway Safety Countermeasures

In its recent Status Report publication “Low-Hanging Fruit” pdf icon [516 KB, 8 pgs.], the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that seven proven countermeasures could immediately reduce the number of U.S. motor vehicle related fatalities. All but one is behavioral in nature. Some would require states to enact and enforce potentially controversial laws.

The seven countermeasures and their expected benefits are outlined below.

Enact primary belt laws: IIHS recommends that all states enact laws requiring all drivers and passengers to wear a seat belt and allowing law enforcement to stop and ticket motorists solely for not buckling up. NHTSA estimates that seat belts saved 12,713 lives in 2009 and would have save an additional 3,688 lives if all vehicle occupants age five or older involved in fatal crashes had been properly restrained. The report notes that increasing the fines for seat belt nonuse could also result in increased belt use and thus fewer fatalities.

Low Hanging Fruit cover
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pdf icon [516 KB, 8 pgs.]

Mandate helmets for all riders: According to NHTSA, motorcycle helmets saved 1,483 lives in 2009. However, 732 more riders could be alive today if all motorcyclists had been wearing helmets that year. IIHS notes that nearly all motorcyclists wear helmets in states that require helmet use by all riders. In states that require only certain riders to be helmeted (or do not require helmets at all), observations indicate only about half of riders don protective headgear.

Toughen teen driver laws: A proven way to reduce the risk of teen driver crashes is through graduated driver licensing (GDL), which allows novice drivers to phase in their driving in stages that limit number of passengers or restrict driving during nighttime hours. While all states have some form of GDL, the components vary. IIHS suggests that delaying unrestricted licensure to age 17 would lower the fatal crash rate among 15- to 17-year-olds by 13 percent. The report notes that both parents and their teens respond favorably to strong GDL laws.

Lower speed limits: The Status Report indicates that speeding was a factor in 31 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2009, responsible for 10,591 lives lost. An American Journal of Public Health study found that increased speed limits were responsible for a three percent jump in highway traffic deaths across all road types, with rural interstates seeing the highest increase of nine percent. The same study suggests that 12,545 deaths were the result of increased speed limits across the U.S. between 1995 and 2005. IIHS notes the American Trucking Associations endorses a 65 mph speed limit for all vehicles to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

Use automated enforcement: Using cameras to enforce red light running and speeding has been shown to cut down on both behaviors. An IIHS analysis found that 159 lives were saved due to red light cameras in 2004-2008 in the 14 largest U.S. cities with such cameras in operation. While speed cameras are less common in the U.S., programs in Maryland and Arizona resulted in the proportion of drivers exceeding speed limits by more than 10 mph dropping by 70 percent and 95 percent, respectively.

Conduct sobriety checkpoints: Sobriety checkpoints are another proven tool to reduce crashes and fatalities. However, they must done frequently and be well publicized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Analysis (CDC), alcohol-related crashes fall about 20 percent when well-publicized checkpoints are conducted. Currently, only 38 states and D.C. conduct checkpoints.

Build roundabouts: IIHS suggests that roundabouts can improve not only safety, but also traffic flow. Studies have found that roundabouts are associated with a 40 percent reduction in crashes and an 80 percent reduction in injury-related crashes. Roundabouts significantly lower the risk for serious right-angle, left-turn, and head-on collisions because vehicles travel in the same directions and at much slower speeds. The Federal Highway Administration says roundabouts should be considered for all new intersections on federally funded highway projects.

IIHS president Adrian Lund sums it up well when he says: “While we’re looking for the next big breakthrough in vehicle safety, we should keep in mind that many existing strategies at the driver and passenger level still can yield gains. Not only can most of these countermeasures be put to work now, but the benefits also would be swift.”

Download the full report at www.iihs.org/externaldata/srdata/docs/sr4607.pdf pdf icon [516 KB, 8 pgs.].