Danger on the Road: Why Driving is Getting Riskier in America

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Driving is Getting Riskier

If you think that driving has become more dangerous in recent years, you’re right. Even as vehicle deaths are falling in most countries, they have actually risen in the United States, notes Kristen Moran in the New York Times. “This is a fairly recent development. Going back to the early years of the automobile in the 1920s until fairly recently the death rate from crashes fell by 90%, thanks to the improvement of roads and highways and safety features such as seat belts and air bags.”

But the progress ended about a decade ago, or at least it did in the United States. Even as vehicle deaths continue to fall in most countries, they have risen in this country. But there has been one major change in driver behavior: the use of smartphones. Surveys suggest Americans spend more time on their phones while driving than people do in other countries.

Smartphones aren’t the only likely cause of the trend. Alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs can impair the ability to drive because they slow coordination, judgment, and reaction times.

Road Rage

Another important factor is road rage. Captain Michael Brown of the Michigan State Police says “It’s not just the volume. It’s the variety. There are people going twice the legal limits on surface streets. There’s road rage.”

Reinforcing that is a survey in 2023 by AAA where 22% of respondents admitted to switching lanes at high speeds or tailgating, 25% admitted to running a red light, and 40% admitted to holding an active phone, and 50% admitted to exceeding posted speed limits by 15 miles per hour or more.

What is the Medical Perspective on All This?

Dr. Deborah Kuhls worked in the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore where she and her colleagues saw approximately 8,000 patients annually. One of her colleagues collected data on road accidents and intoxicants in the victims’ systems. Dr. Kuhls, now with the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine in Las Vegas, said one thing that popped out to her was the sharp increase in car crashes as Covid appeared. “Many people were staying at home and drivers were frustrated. So they would get on road having self-medicated with drugs or alcohol or they would just be incredibly reckless.”

Effect on Connecticut

Highways and large cities understandably get the most attention regarding accidents but what about smaller cities? Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed a bill into law in June which allows municipalities to install automated cameras in roadways. The cameras will photograph the license plates of vehicles that violate traffic rules and automatically mail citations to the vehicle’s owner.

Josh Morgan, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, spoke about what he views as the benefit of automated cameras on public safety in Connecticut. “We provided a significant amount of evidence from other states,” Morgan said, “and other studies from the federal government to show the effectiveness that these devices have in terms of reducing speeding, reducing red light running and ultimately reducing crashes and saving people’s lives.”

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