Safe Travels to You!

Over the past 25 years we've seen a substantial drop in fatal car crashes due to alcohol, that corresponded with a cultural shift in the way society has viewed drinking and driving.  Unfortunately, over the past decade progress has stalled.  We are cautiously optimistic that the reported drop in driving deaths in 2007 related to alcohol will be sustained, and ultimately be part of broader efforts to improve the traffic safety culture in this country.

On the eve of a long holiday weekend, it is certainly timely to remind all motorists of risks associated with drinking and driving.  So, if you do drink, turn the keys over to someone else who has NOT been drinking.

Traffic Deaths Down - Mission NOT Accomplished

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 41,059 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2007, the lowest number of traffic deaths per year in over 10 years. That is certainly good news! Some of the drop is undoubtedly due to efforts of the traffic safety community, while some may be associated with the economy. The exact explanations will require additional analyses of the data. But, regardless of why the death rate has dropped, we must not lose sight of the big picture, and forget that 41,000 deaths - one every 13 minutes - is a major public health crisis.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans from ages one to 34, and they affect countless friends and family members whenever they occur. Yet, motorists, citizens, key stakeholders and our society in general, are complacent to these ongoing tragedies. Most of us have accepted these preventable deaths as the cost of enjoying the mobility we clearly enjoy.

One death should be unacceptable; one every thirteen minutes is outrageous!

Merging Like the Ants (Safely)

I spoke with Cynthia Gorney of the New York Times a few days ago, and we had a great conversation about how and why we behave as we do on the roads - a definite sync with traffic safety culture. Her story, accessible here:, is an entertaining look at the thinking and behavior deployed by two schools of drivers where there's a merge required. She has designated these two groups the "lineuppers" and "sidezoomers," and it should be pretty apparent what these two groups do when a merge is required. Traffic engineers joined the conversation and explained, not surprisingly, that if everyone gets along and does what's best for the common good, traffic will flow more smoothly and merge more safely. By the way, did you know that Julius Caesar had traffic laws to manage chariot jams? Or that ants don't get into traffic jams?

We've all been in the situation where road construction closes a lane and we need to merge down from four or three lanes to three or two. Some of us take what we might believe is the higher moral ground, and stay patiently in line; others are the sidezoomers who drive right up to the end of the lane, and merge in at the 'head of the line.' At the Foundation, we're always interested in how behavior impacts safety, and how we can change behaviors to increase safety for all road users. Most of the public doesn't appreciate the traffic engineers' strategy for moving us through a merge, where everyone gives up a little for the common good. So, when a lineupper is waiting, and a sidezoomer is moving ahead, instead we see disgruntlement developing. Sometimes, this turns into full blown rage that results in hand gestures, horn blowing, or worse.

Take a minute to read Ms. Gorney's story. If everyone had a better appreciation for how to improve traffic flow, and took a few deep breaths, it could be a step forward in making roads safer for all road users.

And, for more information about what we're doing to change traffic safety culture, please visit