Young Drivers Play With Fire

Nearly half of young Aussie drivers who get behind the wheel the morning after a big night out believe they are probably still drunk. That was one of the findings of a recent study conducted by one of the country’s leading car insurance companies, AAMI, and it indicates the depth of a problem that is not confined to Australia. Young drivers all over the world, including the United States, are disproportionately more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than older drivers -- and that should send chills down the backbones of parents the world over.

Data from the 10th annual AAMI Young Drivers Index showed 46 percent of young drivers believed they may still have been over the legal limit when driving the morning after a night of heavy drinking, despite the fact they were risking heavy fines, criminal convictions and most important, the safety of road users. The fact that they suspected they were impaired and still drove is the crux of the issue.

“It’s a damning statistic,” says AAMI spokesman Mike Sopinski. “Many young drivers need to have a long, hard think about alcohol and start making better personal choices before they jump behind the wheel.”

The index analyzed the driving attitudes of people between the ages of 18 and 24 in relation to alcohol, drugs, speed, fatigue and technology usage, and the results were, well, sobering. For instance, though Australia has embarked on a strong campaign against drunken driving by young people, its effect has been limited. In the most recent study, 12 percent of young drivers say it’s OK to drink and drive if they feel capable, down just three percentage points from the 15 percent who felt the same way in 2001.

But at least attitudes on drinking and driving indicated a move in the right direction. That was not the case with three other dangerous behaviors: mobile phone use, aggressive driving and driving while fatigued. In a recent survey, mobile phone usage behind the wheel has rocketed upward from 30 percent in 2001 to 50 percent. And young people are now three times more likely to tailgate (i.e., drive too closely to the vehicle in front of them) out of anger or frustration than they were 10 years ago. In 2001, only 12 percent said they were likely to tailgate, versus 36 percent in the most recent survey. The number of young people who said they would pull over if they were tired has plummeted from 64 percent in 2001 to just 38 percent in the most recent survey.

Professor Russell Gruen, director of The Alfred hospital’s National Trauma Research Institute, says that while some things have changed over the past decade, one thing has not: Young drivers are still overrepresented in fatality statistics. Injured drivers are most commonly male and under 24 years of age. Of the 2,471 admissions to Gruen’s hospital for road-related trauma between 2002 and 2009, 1,767 were young men between the ages of 18 and 24.

“Every injured young driver brings a painful reminder of the fragility of the human body, even when it’s young, strong and seemingly immortal,” says Gruen. “In a split second, a young person with a promising future can become a road toll statistic.”

5 Tips for Safe Holiday Trips

Former science teacher Irv Gordon from Long Island, N.Y., knows how to put safe miles in his rear-view mirror. He’s the pilot/owner of the record-breaking 1966 Volvo P1800 that has been cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest mileage non-commercial vehicle ever driven by a single owner. He’s the kind of guy who jaunts to Pennsylvania for a cup of coffee or rolls off to the Grand Canyon for a long weekend. So he knows what it takes to plan and execute a safe, successful road trip.

What are three keys to road trip success, according to Gordon? He’s a firm and fervent believer in patience, diligence and planning. And as someone who has taken more road trips than anyone you can name, he encourages drivers to be keenly alert on the roadways.

“The holiday season means more people are driving to places to which they are not familiar and are in their cars for lengths of time to which they are not conditioned,” says Gordon. “Planning and diligence are key to ensuring a safe holiday road trip and that families reach the destination we all seek -- a Happy New Year.”

Gordon offers the following driving tips for safe holiday trips:

Check Your Bulbs and More

“A person may spend hours checking every bulb on the holiday lights he’s displaying in his front yard, but how much time does he spend checking his brake light bulbs?” Gordon asked. “Check your lights and turn signals. In fact, have a certified mechanic inspect for you, along with tire inflation and treads, brakes, fluids, etc. It’s good to have a full tuneup before you take your trip.”

Prepare for a Winter Wonderland
“While it may be 60 F and pleasant in Denver as you hit the roads at dawn, it might be 15 F and snowing as you pull into Boise at 11 p.m. that night,” Gordon said. “Winter can be as unpredictable as Uncle Steve’s crude jokes at the dinner table, so prepare for the absolute worst conditions -- even if the forecast tells you otherwise. Keep a blanket, ice scraper, an emergency roadside kit, snacks and bottled water in the trunk."

Rotate Your Drivers

“Let’s all agree that everyone’s attention spans are much shorter than they once were, so don’t put it to the test on the roadways,” Gordon said. “Switch out drivers every couple of hours. If you’re driving solo or there’s no other person with a valid driver’s license in the car, take breaks at rest stops every 90 minutes or so. Stretch the legs and snack on some leftovers.”

Put the Gadgets Away

“Make a rule that nothing requiring a battery charge reside in the front of the car. Cell phones, MP3 players, DVD players, etc. -- they are all potential distractions. Put them in the back or even the trunk,” Gordon said. “In fact, make a rule that everyone put their gadgets away. Road trips are wonderful times to reconnect with family members and enjoy the beautiful views this nation offers.”

Be Mindful of Others on the Road

“While the holidays bring out the best of us in person, it can bring out the worst of us behind the wheels,” Gordon said. “Keep your emotions in check and be mindful of others on the road. Allow plenty of space between you and the car in front of you. Merge with caution. Keep in the right lane unless passing. Essentially, show goodwill toward all.”

In fact, goodwill to all is certain to make each family’s trip better, safer and more enjoyable. Common sense on the road can help all of you arrive safely at home.

Making Cars Safer

How do you change behavior? By giving an incentive to change. And that’s exactly what the National Highway Traffic Administration has done over the past 32 years with its New Car Assessment (NCAP) Program.

The goal of the program is twofold: First, it helps consumers make informed decisions about safety when purchasing a new car. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, it gives auto manufacturers an incentive to improve their cars’ safety. All automobiles sold in the U.S. must meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, but NCAP has always given manufacturers an extra carrot to exceed those standards. As NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told us, “More stars equal safer cars.”

For the 2011 model year, NHTSA has changed NCAP requirements to make them even more stringent and consumer friendly. The new ratings for 2011 models and beyond include more rigorous tests based on advanced safety technology. The new system will help consumers choose to buy or lease safer cars by making it easier to compare the safety among various models.

Upgraded Ratings

For the new model year, the familiar five-star crash test ratings score will be improved and expanded. New criteria for the crash test ratings system include a new side pole crash test, the use of different-sized test dummies (enabling the collection of more crash data), and a recognition of new high-tech crash avoidance features, such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), and Forward Collision Warning (FCW).

Perhaps the biggest consumer benefit is the introduction of a single, easy-to-understand Overall Ratings Score. The score combines the results of head-on crash tests, side crash tests and rollover tests. It then compares those results to the average risk of injury and rollover potential of other cars, giving the buyer a good all-around look at the comparative safety of the vehicle.

Dummies Get Smarter

Although the addition of an all-new crash test -- the side pole test -- might be the most attention-getting feature of the revised crash test ratings scheme, the introduction of more sophisticated crash test dummies might have the biggest overall impact on improving safety in the long haul. The crash-test dummies now include small-sized adult females and medium-sized adult males, providing further precision in the tests.

The use of dummies of various sizes helps engineers understand how people of different heights, weights and genders are affected in the event of a crash. Thanks to the more intelligently designed dummies, injury data is also being collected on additional areas of the body, including the head, chest, neck and legs.

Technology for Safer Cars

One of the most encouraging aspects of the revised NCAP is the recognition of “active-safety” devices that help drivers avoid accidents instead of simply surviving them. While not part of the five-star rating scheme, the new technology will figure prominently in NHTSA regulations. For example, the NHTSA now recognizes:

  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which helps drivers maintain control by estimating the direction the vehicle is heading in and applying pressure to individual brakes to help bring the vehicle back into the desired direction of travel
  • Forward Collision Warning (FCW), which identifies when one vehicle gets too close to another and signals the driver to apply brakes to avoid a collision
  • Lane Departure Warning (LDW), which monitors lane markers and alerts the driver if the vehicle appears to be inadvertently drifting, a sign of drowsiness or inattentiveness

NHTSA plans to do extensive testing of 2011 model year cars to build out its database and to highlight car safety. The only major downside of the new procedures is that the new five-star ratings cannot be compared to previous model years; the rule of thumb is to compare cars of like model years.

Photo Credit: ©

Child Safety is 24/7 Responsibility

Childhood disease is a serious threat that always looms large in the minds of parents. But according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of children ages two to 14. While that is a sobering statistic, the good news is that there are simple ways to increase the odds for your children's safety in a radical way. Children aged four to eight who use booster seats and safety belts correctly are 59% less likely to be injured in a motor vehicle crash than children who are restrained only by a safety belt. Sadly, more than 80% of child restraints are used incorrectly, according to NHTSA.
The safety experts at 21st Century Insurance, after consulting with safety mavens nationwide, offer these 10 tips to help keep young passengers safe:

Top 10 Do's for Child Passenger Safety:

1. Always use a child safety seat. Start with your new baby's ride home from the hospital, and don't deviate no matter how inconvenient it may see at times.

2. Pick the right child safety seat. Make sure you are using the correct type of seat for your child's age and weight. Very young children should ride in a rear-facing seat. As children age and grow larger a forward-facing seat should be used. Finally as children get still bigger a booster seat is the appropriate choice.

3. Read the directions. All car seats must be installed and used properly. Read the owners manual to the seat and your car to make certain you are installing the seat correctly.

4. Register your seat. Complete the registration card for your new seat and send it to the seat's manufacturer. This will allow you to be alerted by the manufacturer should there be problems and recalls involving that seat.

5. Baby your baby. Remember that babies need more support. Use a rear-facing seat that offers additional head and neck support for babies up to 22 pounds.

6. Use a booster seat. Children ages four to eight years old should be restrained in a booster seat in the back seat of the vehicle. The booster allows the seatbelt to be properly positioned across your child's chest rather than neck.

7. Use integral child seat harnesses correctly. Make sure harnesses are in slots at or below the shoulders for rear-facing seats or at or above the shoulders for forward-facing seats. Harnesses should lie in a snug, straight line across the child.

8. Know the law. Seatbelt and child-seat laws vary from state to state. Know the requirements where you live. But don't do the minimum.

9. Ask the experts. Learn how to correctly install and use your seat by attending a local passenger safety clinic. Your local paper will alert you to these events, which are held frequently.

10. Check out resources. For more information, call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK or go to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Saftey Administration) Web site.

To help reduce preventable injuries and deaths, 21st Century Insurance premiered its child safety seat initiative five years ago. Since then, more than 7,000 child safety seats have been inspected throughout six states; 21st has donated more than 5,500 new child safety seats; and more than 2,500 broken, recalled or non-age-appropriate child safety seats have been collected and discarded.

DT Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini, the father of three, writes frequently on child-safety issues.

9 Crucial Safety Tips for Motorcycle Season

When the weather warms up, motorcycles come out of garages all over the northern half of the country, and riders hit the road. 

For riders, that first ride of the season is often a memorable one, opening a new summer season of riding adventure. But danger lurks within every other vehicle on the road: More than half of all motorcycle crashes involve a collision with another vehicle, and the driver of that other vehicle is most often at fault.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation urges all drivers to give riders some space and to not be "that guy” who hits a motorcyclist. Killing or injuring a motorcycle rider is something you'd have to live with for the rest of your life, and nobody needs that guilt.  

Here, from the foundation, are some hints that you, the driver of a car, should know about motorcyclists:

1.  There are a lot more cars and trucks than motorcycles on the road
, and because of that, some drivers don't “recognize” a motorcycle. Motorcycles are simply not on their personal radar screens, and they are ignored, usually unintentionally and sometimes with tragic consequences.

2.  Because of its small size, a motorcycle can be easily hidden in a car’s blind spots
(like the door and roof pillars) or masked by objects or backgrounds outside a car (like bushes, fences or bridges). Take an extra moment to look for motorcycles, whether you’re changing lanes or turning at intersections.

3.  Also due to its small size, a motorcycle may seem to be farther away than it actually is
, and it may be difficult to judge its speed. If you see a motorcycle when you are checking traffic to turn at an intersection or into or out of a driveway, predict it's closer than it looks.

4.  Motorcyclists often slow by downshifting or merely rolling off the throttle
, thus not activating the brake light. Allow more following distance -- say, three or four seconds between your vehicle and the motorcycle. At intersections, predict that a motorcyclist may slow down without visual warning in the form of brake light activation.

5.  Motorcyclists often adjust their position within a lane
to be seen more easily and to minimize the effects of road debris, passing vehicles and wind. Understand that motorcyclists adjust lane position for a legitimate purpose -- not to be reckless or show off or allow you to share the lane with them.

6.  Turn signals on a motorcycle are
usually  not self-canceling; thus, some riders (especially beginners) may forget to turn them off after a turn or lane change. Don’t ignore the turn signal, but be aware that it might not be activated to indicate an imminent turn.

7.  Maneuverability is one of a motorcycle’s better characteristics
, especially at slower speeds and with good road conditions, but don’t expect a motorcyclist to be able to dodge out of the way of your vehicle. Give them space to maneuver.

8.  Stopping distance for motorcycles is nearly the same as for cars, but slippery pavement makes stopping more difficult
. Allow more following distance behind a motorcycle than behind a car or truck, because a motorcycle can’t always stop “on a dime” -- or even a quarter.

9.  When a motorcycle is in motion, see more than the motorcycle
. Also see the person under the helmet, who could be your friend, neighbor or relative. If a driver crashes into a motorcyclist, bicyclist or pedestrian and causes serious injury, the result is a tragedy not only for the injured person but for the driver of the vehicle that injured him as well.