Posts Tagged traffic safety

Wanna have FUN?


Who doesn’t wanna have FUN? That’s why Volkwagen started …

… to see if fun changes behavior. Can fun even change a risky driving behavior that’s been really hard to change? See for yourself:

This is the winning idea of the fun theory award. Kevin Richardson, USA, wondered if we could get more people to obey the speed limit by making it fun to do. Volkswagen and The Swedish National Society for Road Safety made his innovative idea a reality in Stockholm, Sweden.

I remember seeing this one before — uh, along with 13 million other people. With good reason. When do you see everyone take the stairs and no one take the escalator?

When it’s FUN!


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Change Chance

This week I saw a journalist’s blog named “By Chance.” She asks, “don’t most events in our lives happen by chance?” She aims to share chance observations and experiences. Even her cat was named Chance. She really believes in chance!

I don’t believe in chance. Most of the time, things that we think are chance occurrences are really coincidences. And chance and coincidence are different things.

To bring that thought down a notch (because it’s way too philosophical for me to deal!), it’s similar to using the word “accident.” Accident implies chance. It means:

  • Someone fell off a roof while hanging Christmas lights and broke his neck due to chance.
  • A new teen driver smashed into a tree with three friends in the car, killing two friends, due to chance.
  • Grandma slipped on sidewalk ice and fractured her hip. And a year later instead of living independently in her own home, she is a nursing home resident for the rest of her days. Due to chance.
  • A pedestrian walking while talking on a cell phone steps into Michigan Avenue in Chicago and gets hit by a taxi, critically injured, due to chance.

Chance means when these things happened, they were:

  • Fate
  • Uncontrollable
  • Random
  • Flukes
  • Unforeseeable
  • Meant to happen
  • Due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time

Most egregious, you hear people say, “it was just that person’s time.” Ugh! No, it wasn’t that person’s time. These things don’t have to happen. The guy who fell off the roof should be opening Christmas presents with his kids. Those teens should all arrive home safely. Grandma should bake cookies for her grandchildren in her own house. The pedestrian should get to work that day. 

How can anyone use chance as an excuse for these situations?

In fact, all of these situations are preventable. People who are mathematical crackerjacks with probability algorithms could likely even predict probability of these incidents with accuracy. That is not chance, folks. It means there are factors that predict these situations could happen.

So let’s look real quick at obvious factors for why these four situations are not chance, why they are not accidents. They are preventable. And this is how:

  • Falls from roofs are a major cause of death for construction workers, who are  used to being on roofs. People climbing on their own house’s roof should take cues from construction employers’ safety playbook – use guardrails, safety nets, personal fall arrest systems if there’s danger of falling more than six feet. Considering that most homeowners won’t go to this extent, a few other options: 1) don’t hang lights on areas of the house beyond safe reach of a ladder or 2) costly as it is, hire insured professionals to hang lights, it’s cheaper than the costs of falling. Or don’t hang lights on the house. Creative companies sell lots of other decorations for our houses and lawns.
  • In many states, teen drivers with intermediate/junior licenses cannot drive with three teen friends. There’s a very good reason for this. A 16- or 17-year-old teen driver’s crash risk rises 4-5 times with that many friends in the car. Passengers are very distracting to new teen drivers. Simply put, the teen shouldn’t have had friends in the car. And the passengers shouldn’t have ridden with their friend, possibly illegally, depending on the state they lived in.
  • Ice should have been melted or cleared off the sidewalk so no one can fall on ice. Older residents should find volunteer or paid services to do this for them. In addition, the woman should have regular exercise program to build strength and balance, regular eye doctor visits, and proper management of all her medications and their interactions. Calcium and weight bearing exercise could also help prevent or delay osteoporosis which might improve the woman’s outcome in a fall. Install things that could help prevent or break falls along her sidewalks, such as grab bars or railings to hold. Beyond just the fall injury, falls among older people can lead to repeat falls, loss of independent living and early death.
  • In addition to the research that shows talking on cell phones contributes to car crashes, research shows pedestrians are impaired when talking on cell phones too. They look around less for potential hazards. They don’t notice things in the environment around them. They step into streets when vehicles are coming. The pedestrian shouldn’t have been talking on a cell phone, especially in the busy and hazard-filled Michigan Avenue area. This is an emerging issue and most people aren’t yet aware of the risks. Education could center around riskier areas with high pedestrian and street traffic.

So if these are preventable, and they’re not chance accidents, what are they? They are exactly what they are: crashes, falls, getting hit by a car.

Let’s change how these things are described and leave chance out of it.

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Killer celery=4 deaths while car crashes=~20,000

So if tainted celery is worthy of attention on CNN home page as soon as news of these deaths is released, what does it take to get that attention for 20,000 deaths within 8 months?

Why isn’t public attention about the cause of 20,000 deaths on every media outlet, all the time? Where is the demand to prevent this? (We have pretty good idea actually, will discuss in future post.)

We don’t accept 4 deaths from a food source. Nor should we. Business operations are shut down when this happens. The source of the fatalities is destroyed, pulled from shelves and eradicated, immediately, as much as possible.

In contrast, we passively accept 20,000 deaths from another source of fatalities. Not only do we not demand preventive action, effective prevention is actively thwarted by some beliefs and behaviors.

While France is currently rioting enough to disrupt a country’s operations over a 2 years’ delay to retirement benefits (not that I agree with that uproar, I’m just making a connection), I ask you to consider this contrast that boggles my mind…

We don’t accept 4 deaths from celery, but we accept 30,000+ deaths a year from car crashes in the U.S.

That’s unacceptable to accept, but U.S. society does and that’s a culture to change.

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Is this driver really the only one responsible for his problem?

It was a murder mystery. That’s how New York Times journalist Matt Richtel, who won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his reporting on cell phones and distracted driving, described the series of articles. After reading his writings for over a year, we heard him speak and share background stories about the special series at a conference this week.

This murder mystery angle got me thinking about public health and injustice and personal responsibility. In public health we usually seek to reduce and erase injustices. However so many issues, such as car crashes, are incorrectly pegged as issues of only personal responsibility.

Matt’s investigation into how a fatal crash involving texting happened took him decades into the past when cell phones were first created as car phones. Then he traced a path through industry and government decisions to the present, where we now lose thousands of people a year in crashes involving cell phones. He showed how distracted driving could be a true public health issue of injustice.

For those who think the issue is only one of personal responsibility, you need to trace what led to people’s personal decisions about using cell phones in vehicles.

Cartoon from National Safety Council

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Accepting that maybe different views have truth

This morning I looked out from the 34th floor of the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City and saw something I thought I’d never see again since seeing it in Laos: a complex-looking intersection with rush hour traffic and no traffic lights! Cars were moving smoothly. Peacefully, even.

A few years ago my husband and I visited Luang Prabang, Laos, a town with few passenger vehicles. Most people ride two-wheelers and the few cars and SUVs seem to be for the tourist industry and business operators. One day to escape the heat we drank cold tea on the shady terrace of a bookstore high up on a hill, and got mesmerized watching traffic below. We could see many roads from up there. We watched streams of two-wheelers moving gracefully like a dance. Negotiating through the traffic but without negotiation. If that makes sense. It looked like they just knew what to do. They were all working together. Plus, many were young people because the school day had just ended. We could tell by the uniforms. Schoolchildren, teens, young adults — they were riding their two-wheelers through a system that looked so orderly without traffic signals and signs.

I thought something like that would never work in the U.S. Beyond the fact that we’re way beyond two-wheelers as transportation, we are competitive. Me first. This is my lane. Don’t cut in front of me. Hurry up, get out of my way. I was here first. Stop riding my a**. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Ever think these things? Yell these things? And worse?! Thought so.

Around the time we were in Laos, we were fighting our village to install a stop sign in our neighborhood so cars wouldn’t keep barreling down a hill along our narrow residential street where children wait in the street for the bus and there are no sidewalks and no streetlights. We don’t want sidewalks and streetlights, we just wanted a stop sign to change driver behavior. Of course the village traffic engineer told us you don’t use stop signs to slow traffic speeds, that’s not the purpose of them. We knew and we didn’t care. We saw scary driver behavior when children are in the road, and we demanded action.  The village traffic study found an unacceptable percentage of drivers were driving 40-45 mph in our 20 mph road (told ya so) and we got the stop sign. Traffic slowed down significantly. My view of the world was proven.

But this morning I saw vehicles moving through a complicated-looking system without signals. Sorry the video is from a phone and the view is so tiny here, really can’t see it now.

Streams of vehicles didn’t need to come to a grating halt like red lights make us do. Where possible, traffic flowed to the right or straight ahead without stopping. When turning left, signage allowed traffic that has the right of way to move first. When no vehicles with right-of-way are present, vehicles can keep moving and pass through. Drivers are making these decisions themselves, guided by signage and likely by the layout of the intersection that makes them pay attention, rather than being told what to do by traffic signals.

This is when I realized I was looking at something I thought I didn’t believe in. Many of us have professional beliefs and perspectives that we get through our education and experience. Working in traffic safety, over the past few years I’ve heard Tom Vanderbilt speak at traffic safety conferences several times. He wrote Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). The book and his presentations show how more challenging traffic environments may make drivers pay more attention to the roadway and their driving, resulting in fewer crashes. He shows traffic situations that exist in other countries that many in the U.S. would think are dangerous. But he says research shows these “dangerous” situations actually reduce crashes.

So many things he talks about are counter-intuitive to what I believed, I had difficulty accepting them. No matter how interested I was in his speeches, I never quite bought in. Except for roundabouts, I do accept those, having driven through endless roundabouts in Italy while negotiating places we’d never been before and signs (sometimes a dozen of them on a single pole!) in a language we don’t speak, at speeds that wouldn’t tick off fast Italian drivers, and despite all that always passing through the roundabouts safely and with confidence.

But this morning as I watched the traffic at this Kansas City intersection, I understood what he’s talking about. It’s good to be more open to other perspectives.

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