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Deborah A.P. Hersman
President & CEO, National Safety Council
Feb. 15, 2017 | Washington, D.C.
Thank you for joining us today.
In a few minutes, you will hear from one of our advocates, Laura Carney.
Laura lost her father in a crash in 2003. She has courageously agreed to
speak with you today, because while the data tell us we have a long way
to go, personal stories remind us why we need to get there.
I wish I could tell you that we are doing better than we were in 2003,
when Laura lost her dad.
Instead, I have to tell you that we are doing almost as poorly as we were
then, despite incredible safety advancements, education campaigns and
According to National Safety Council preliminary estimates, 40,000
people died on our roadways last year. That is a 6% increase over 2015,
and a 14% increase over 2014.
Preliminarily reports show that 2016 was the deadliest year on our
roadways since 2007, and the two-year incline is the steepest we have
experienced since 1964 – 53 years.
Let me put that in perspective for you.
40,000 people would fill 11 Titanic’s, nearly two Empire State buildings,
and surpasses the average daily attendance at Wrigley Field last year as
the Chicago Cubs chased their World Series title.
Think about all the traffic safety advancements we have made in 53
years. The timeline displayed here provides an overview.
Since 1964, we have passed seat belt, graduated licensing and drunk
driving laws, and made airbags and electronic stability control required
features. Vehicles today are designed not only to lessen the impact of
crashes, but in some cases, prevent the crash from happening at all.
What has not changed is our human fallibility.
For causation, you need to look at the individual reports, but the 2015
data showed increases in distraction- and speed-related fatalities, a rise
in deaths among unbelted occupants, vulnerable road users and teen
Yes, there is more exposure, but a 3% increase in miles driven does not
track with the 6% increase in deaths.
Recently the National Safety Council polled 2,000 drivers across the
United States to gain insight into what is going on behind the wheel. The
results were disheartening.
Let’s start with good news.
Of all the things the public worries about, driving was rightly at the top of
the list – 83% of those we surveyed believe driving is a safety concern –
more so than other commonly reported fears, such as gun violence,
disease and commercial airline travel.
Respondents also said drunk drivers are their #1 concern, followed
closely by distracted drivers. These are both serious safety issues that the
driving public should focus on.
However, we found drivers’ concerns are not prompting them to adopt
safer behaviors themselves.
In the last three months, 10% of drivers said they had driven after they
felt like they were too drunk to be behind the wheel. Of those who have
driven while intoxicated, 48% said they crossed the median, dozed off or
drifted onto the shoulder. 43% were involved in a crash.
76% are concerned that legalizing marijuana will negatively impact traffic
safety. Yet, 13% said they have driven under the influence of either
recreational or medical marijuana in the last month.
47% feel it is safe to send text messages – either manually or through
16% said they do not buckle up on every trip, and 31% do not make their
passengers buckle up every time.
16% of drivers would prefer to shut off safety features because they are
confusing, irritating or give them false activations.
25% are comfortable speeding on residential streets, where speed limits
are often 25-35 mph. 9% even told us they would go at least 10 mph over
the speed limit in a school zone.
These results underscore how our complacency is killing us – the top
three killers are: speed, alcohol and distraction.
We can keep asking ourselves “Why” – but you look at these survey
results, and “Why” may not be the most important question anymore –
because the same things that have killed us for decades are still killing us.
We have to start asking ourselves “What more can we do?”
If a Titanic-size ship sank every day for 11 days, we would pull every
marine vessel out of the water. If the foundation of two skyscrapers
buckled, we would overhaul architectural design and construction.
Where is our outrage over losing as many as 109 people a day to car
40,000 deaths has to be a call to action.
We know what to do, we just need to do it.
There are 40,000 reasons to adopt the recommendations we are making.
More than 10,000 people die every year in drunk driving crashes.
Therefore, the National Safety Council is calling for mandatory ignition
interlocks for first-time offenders, and national education efforts to help
drivers understand that impairment begins with the first drink.
Ignition interlocks and better education can help us get to zero.
Speeding is a factor in nearly 30% of all fatal crashes – either going over
the posted speed limit or driving too fast for conditions. Therefore, the
National Safety Council is calling on all cities and municipalities to use
automated enforcement technologies, including red light and speed
cameras, wherever possible – particularly at intersections.
More than 50 percent of the combined fatal and injury crashes annually
occur at intersections.
Automated enforcement and red light cameras can help us get to zero.
At least 3,000 people each year are killed in distraction-related crashes,
and many of them involve cell phone use. We all know that number is
under-reported. The National Safety Council is renewing its call for a total
ban on all cell phone use – including hands-free – for all drivers.
Banning all cell phone use will help get us to zero.
Nearly half of all people killed in car crashes were unrestrained. The
National Safety Council is calling for all seat belt laws to be immediately
upgraded from secondary to primary enforcement, and for those laws to
extend to every passenger in every seating position.
Strong seat belt laws can get us to zero.
Nearly 4,000 people are killed in teen driver crashes. The National Safety
Council is calling for every state to implement three-tiered Graduated
Driver Licensing systems that extend to all new drivers younger than 21 –
not just to those younger than 18. Inexperience is inexperience,
regardless of age.
Stronger, more inclusive GDL systems would help us get to zero.
More than 5,000 motorcyclists are killed every year; more than 5,300
pedestrians are killed. The National Safety Council is calling for
motorcycle helmet laws to be mandatory or reinstated and for every
community to adopt comprehensive pedestrian safety programs. This can
help us get to zero.
94% of crashes are due to human error. The National Safety Council is
calling for safety features such as backup cameras, automatic emergency
braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot
monitoring and adaptive headlights to be standardized and to accelerate
equipping all newly manufactured vehicles with technology that can
intervene or mitigate crash risk.
These safety systems can help us get to zero.
The reporters here today are getting a sneak peek at something we will
release next week –a first-of-its-kind virtual reality app that gives drivers
a tutorial of driver assistance technologies. Our cars are capable of truly
amazing, life-saving things, but the systems are only effective if we know
how to use them. Virtual reality allows drivers not only to “see” these
systems, but almost reach out and touch them.
NSC developed the app for both Android and Apple. I encourage you to
give the goggles a try.
Strong laws cannot replace personal responsibility. We are accountable
for our safety.
It starts with putting our cell phones away, wearing our seat belts,
obeying the posted speed limits, helping our teens get the experience
they need, choosing not to drink, and designating a sober, drug-free
We can learn about our safety systems so we know how to use them.
We can get to zero if we each commit to do so.
Maya Angelou once wrote, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot
be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
We cannot rewrite history or bring back those we have lost. But we can
have the audacity to do what needs to be done. 40,000 deaths does not
need to be our new normal. We can create meaning from tragedy if we
trade in our complacency for courage.
Our next speaker is a living example of how to do just that. Since losing
her father in 2003, Laura has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about
the dangers of cell phone use behind the wheel. She has dedicated
countless hours and resources to making sure no one else experiences
the horror of losing someone they love in an entirely preventable crash.
I want to personally thank you, Laura, not only for being here, but also for
sharing your story. Your father’s legacy will live on through you and the
wonderful work you are doing.
Thank you all for joining us, and please welcome Laura Carney.
The National Safety Council is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization.