The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released statements regarding the incredible increase in traffic fatalities in the first half of 2016. The total number of miles driven in the US rose 3.3 % in the first half of the year and in the same time the traffic fatalities rose to highest point since 2009, a growing number well over 1.4 million people. In the US, 94% of all vehicle accidents are ruled the result of human error. That broad term encompasses all the forms of distraction, DUI, failure to reduce speed, failure to obey traffic signals, and aggressive driving. The NHTSA is proposing to develop a plan that model’s itself on Sweden’s “Vision Zero” implemented there in 1997, and want to achieve the goal of Zero Fatalities by 2046.
Part of achieving the 30 year goal is based on the perfection of autonomous vehicles that will employ defensive tactics and A.I. integrated road awareness. Road improvements such as intersections evaluations and infrastructure repairs are necessary. And signage for speed and potential hazards, and seasonal condition warnings will still exist, but there are investigations into embedding ground signals that can transmit to autonomous vehicles or slow speeds. Whatever paths are taken, the NHTSA will have to grapple with more than technology and infrastructure, they will have to examine the reconstruction of the American concept of driving. Incidents like the Tesla accident pictured in the headline and in the police diagram show that the smart of the vehicle is still subject to the alertness of the driver. The technology is still in its infancy.
Several countries and areas of the United States have employed a version of Sweden’s “Vision Zero” model plan. Most have had seen decreases in traffic fatality rates against their own baseline data from 1980 and their yearly statistics from start to the year 2013. Aside from most of these countries being smaller in road miles or kilometers than the US, most show that implementation of the Swedish plan has worked.
Much of the current problem in the United States is that not everyone shares the same respect for the road, their vehicle’s capability and their fellow man. Smaller nations with more uniform populations can claim better figures because their attitudes are more in tune with their culture. Americans don’t tend to think as much in terms of “we” when it comes to getting from point A to point B. There’s a built-in individualism that might be resistant to a road filled with autonomous cars, while now the same contributes to some aggressive driving tactics. “Learn to drive or park it!”
Did anyone else see the film “Red Asphalt” as part of a Driver’s Education training program? Many versions of the film have been developed over the years to continually press home the understanding of driving safety among young drivers. To date there’s been at least six revisions to the gory film (complete with crash and morgue footage) that provide a stiff “yuck” factor to the truth of careless driving. These seem to emerge as teen driving issues spike highway incidents, emphasizing speed, seat-belt usage, and now the distraction of phones. I think an early episode of the 1980’s television “as-it-happens” show called COPS showed the best representation of teens exposed to watching “Red Asphalt.” The entire room of kids made faces and jeered through the screening, laughing and looking at it as if it were a classic horror-slasher film. They must have been watching version I or II.
The problem with any driver training or testing program is that neither pushes the spectrum of conditions or variables. The practical driving test is an exercise of understanding the instructions that someone else is giving in an unreal, undistracted setting. Life is usually not at risk when you are parallel parking, but could be if you anger someone else while trying and failing. Likewise we all might glance at the face of the phone when we hear it chirp or react when our beverage spills.
Warning that the clip below contains extremely disturbing graphics.
Some things to look for in the U.S. efforts toward achieving Vision Zero will include the development of more practical training facilities, vigilant enforcement of distracted driving, and more test autonomous cars rolling along to accumulate knowledge miles.