Driver Conditioning Part V: Why Drivers Must Take Safety Into Their own Hands
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Driver Conditioning Part V: Why Drivers Must Take Safety Into Their own Hands

Driver Conditioning Part V: Why Drivers Must Take Safety Into Their own Hands

How you can help your teen avoid the risks of driver conditioning.

Man cannot discover new oceans if he refuses to lose sight of the shore. ~ Andre Gide – French writer

Dean T. Johnson is the president and founder of The Sandy Johnson Foundation: Making Our Roads Safer. He began the efforts of promoting safe roadways, soon after the unnecessary deaths of his wife and mother-in-law.

In Part One of this series, we learned that Sandy Johnson and her mother were killed at an intersection that had experienced a significantly high crash rate for over a decade. As I later learned, this intersection had been studied six times over 13 years and was ranked the eighth most dangerous intersection in the state of Ohio. Why exactly had it remained dangerous for so many years and why it was difficult to identify a solution? After Sandy and her mother’s deaths, I looked for an answer to this very question.

There are millions of motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. each year. In my research to understand these deaths, I learned that, to try and prevent these crashes in the first place, transportation departments have created nationally-accepted engineering standards for roads, which they follow to the letter when creating and updating roadways. Yet, crashes still happen. Why is that?

After talking to experts, I was told that across much of the country the process for identifying, analyzing and correcting dangerous roadway locations often follows a specific procedure, and it works similar to this:

  1. Crash data is collected across a state;
  2. This data is reviewed annually;
  3. Individual crash sites are ultimately ranked according to a specific criterion;
  4. If an individual site maintains a disproportionately high number of crashes for consecutive years, a site-study is scheduled.

Here’s the problem: what I learned from these experts is that the first purpose of a site study is to determine if all existing engineering standards are being met—not necessarily to identify a cause for crashes outside of those standards. If engineering standards are not being met, the site will quickly be brought into compliance. But if those standards are being met ­– which, I was told, is typically the case ­– the study is complete.

This means that if the issue creating the danger exists outside of those standards, the site may remain unchanged and crashes caused by that issue may continue, unabated. The site will remain “on the radar,” of course, and will be subject to additional studies until a cause for the crashes is ultimately identified and effective corrective measures are completed, but this process – as I learned – could take years.

When you consider the many ways in which driver conditioning manifests itself behind the wheel, it can multiply the danger and make it even harder to get to the root of what is causing these crashes. Yet this is the scenario new drivers enter each day and it is why parental involvement is so important in the driver education process.

We know there is no single solution for keeping all roadway travelers safe. But we owe it to every road user to continually search for innovative ways to solve the problems that have plagued us since we first got behind the wheel.

At the Sandy Johnson Foundation, we believe it is possible to identify and correct dangerous road conditions at a much faster pace, but we cannot afford to wait for structural changes to solve these issues. The more you help your new teen driver understand these risks, the better chance he or she has of recognizing and avoiding them while driving.

Mary Peters, former administrator of the Federal Highway Administration from Oct. 2, 2001 to July 29, 2005, once said, “…despite the advances that transportation professionals have made to incorporate a safety philosophy into everything they do, the annual toll of fatalities and serious injuries on the nation’s roadways remains too great.”

We agree with Ms. Peters, and believe that we can collectively make progress toward fixing this problem, saving thousands of lives each year in the process.

You can learn more about our ideas online, but never forget your role in protecting your teen.

In Part Six of this series, we will summarize our Highway Safety Initiative, which addresses the issues presented in this blog. Specifically, analyzing, and correcting highway locations known to be dangerous, and identifying potential problems at newly constructed or modified locations.

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