National Safety Council Releases Data on 2020 Road Safety

National Safety Council 2020 Road Safety

The National Safety Council (NSC) has released information about the current safety of our roads, and the results may not be what you expect considering the impact COVID-19 has had on our daily routines. Despite sweeping stay-at-home orders for many months during the first half of the year—and far fewer drivers behind the wheel—NSC reports that the roads were deadlier.

Traffic Safety Challenges

According to the release, the U.S. experienced an estimated 20 percent jump in the death rate during the first half of 2020 compared to the same six-month period in 2019. Death rate data is used as an indicator of how safely drivers are using the roadways. According to NSC estimates, this increase in the death rate is the highest jump NSC has calculated for a six-month period since 1999. This is most notable when one considers that there was a 17 percent drop in the number of miles driven between January and June.

While the NSC announcement doesn’t directly identify causes for the dangerous roads, media coverage nationwide is reporting both drunk driving and a severe spike in speeding are frequent factors. With the anxiety and stress involved in enduring a global pandemic, many are turning to alcohol to cope and then getting behind the wheel. And with fewer cars on the roads, some drivers are shifting into high gear—driving 100 mph or more.

Which States’ Roads Were Deadliest?

Some states fared worse than others when it came to this trend. The top three states that reported notable increases in road fatalities during the first six months of 2020 were:

  • Vermont (+91%, 10 more deaths)
  • Connecticut (+44%, 45 more deaths)
  • District of Columbia (+42%, 5 more deaths)

Some states experienced decreases in the number of roadway deaths:

  • Wyoming (-49%, 39 fewer deaths)
  • Alaska (-31%, 11 fewer deaths)
  • Hawaii (-27%, 16 fewer deaths)

Making Roads Safer

In response to this data, NSC encourages motorists to focus on safety by obeying speed limits, designating a sober driver, and driving attentively while avoiding distractions.  

“Because of COVID-19 and states’ shelter-in-place orders earlier this year, the country should have reaped a safety benefit from less traffic,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Instead, our soaring rate of deaths speaks to our need to improve safety on our roads. Clearly, we must work harder as a society to reverse this trend, especially since the pandemic is not nearly over.”

NSC motor vehicle fatality estimates and supplemental information, including estimates for each state, can be found here.


Sobering Up

Hesitation to Use Ridesharing Services, Public Transportation Causing an Increase in DUIs?

Woman waiting for an Uber on the street wearing a mask.

Following months of quarantine and social distancing, many jurisdictions throughout the country are now reporting a disturbing new trend: an increase in DUI arrests. There are a number of potential explanations for such an increase, including the fact that people are more hesitant to use ridesharing options and public transportation for fear of contracting COVID-19.

Widespread Increase in Alcohol Abuse

The stress involved in experiencing a global pandemic has increased alcohol intake globally. Online “quarantini” memes and recipes are in abundance, and in mid-March alcohol sales surged by 55 percent as people turned to drinking to deal with the stress, anxiety, and grief brought on by isolation. Many bars and restaurants are re-opening after months of closure and restrictions. And more people are taking advantage of that opportunity to get out of their homes, while still enticed to drink.

Drunk Driving on the Rise

During the months of March and April, many news outlets were actually reporting a dramatic decrease in DUI arrests as people complied with stay-at-home orders. But when restrictions began to lift in May, alcohol consumption remained high. According to data from research company Nielsen, for the week ending on May 2, total alcohol sales in the U.S. were up by more than 32% compared to the same week the previous year. Around that same time, DUI arrests began to rise. A news story out of South Carolina indicated that despite continued pleas for social distancing, in May the Charleston Police Department reported more DUI incidents than in the same month in 2019.

Drinking? Yes. Public Transportation? No.

While some people are excited to get out more, most continue to have some concerns about the safety of certain public spaces. This includes public transportation and rideshare vehicles. According to a recent study, 39% of people surveyed who previously used rideshare services said they will reduce their use or stop using them entirely due to COVID-19. And 45% said the same about public transportation. Among those who plan to decrease or stop using these services, 49% indicated that they would increase use of their personal vehicle as a result.   

What Rideshare Companies Say about Safety

According to the websites of popular rideshare companies Uber and Lyft, many new procedures are in place in response to COVID-19. Drivers and riders are required to wear masks, front seats are to remain empty, and the companies are working to distribute cleaning supplies to drivers in cities with the greatest need.

“Everybody’s concerned about getting in the cab with someone else, or getting in an Uber with somebody else, right now with the COVID thing, but above all, don’t take any chances, make sure you get a designated driver to get you home,” said Lt. Rick Carson of the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office.

While the risk of COVID-19 is a concern, the risks involved in drinking and driving remain critical as well.


Sobering Up

Domestic Violence: The Hidden Danger of Social Distancing

For most, this is a time of fear and uncertainty. Unfortunately, for some, the fear comes more from the solution than from the COVID-19 virus itself. While social distancing is essential to help minimize exposure to the virus and to save lives, the act itself can be dangerous for those in an abusive or alcohol-dependent relationship.

Isolation and Domestic Violence

Isolation is a common tactic used by an abuser to control his or her partner. By eliminating external sources of support for the victim, the abuser is able to solidify a position of power. This behavior can be demonstrated in a variety of ways, from monitoring a victim’s phone activity to completely cutting out or restricting contact with friends and family. Unfortunately, now that we are many weeks into this crisis, it is likely that the magnitude of partner abuse could intensify. According to BreakTheCycle.org, isolation can “create the space in a relationship for the partner using abusive behaviors to escalate other harmful behaviors.”

Alcohol Abuse Amplifies Risk

Evidence suggests that alcohol use increases the chance and gravity of domestic violence, demonstrating a direct correlation between the two. “Because alcohol use affects cognitive and physical function, it reduces a person’s self-control and lessens their ability to negotiate a non-violent resolution to conflicts,” according to Alcohol.org. “Alcohol is often involved in instances of domestic abuse, both by the perpetrator and the victim, which can result in more significant and negative outcomes.” In fact, an estimated 55 percent of people who commit domestic abuse were drinking, and women who experience domestic violence are up to 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol themselves. 

How COVID-19 Could Uniquely Impact Intimate Partner Violence Survivors

By being asked to further separate from others, this sense of isolation is even more pronounced for victims of abuse. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, there are a number of ways that the COVID-19 crisis could be uniquely impacting survivors of partner abuse: 

  • Abusive partners may withhold necessary items, such as hand sanitizer or disinfectants.
  • The sharing misinformation about the pandemic can be used by abusive partners to control or frighten survivors, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms.
  • Abusive partners may withhold insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance, or prevent survivors from seeking medical attention if they need it.
  • Programs that serve survivors may be significantly impacted – shelters may be full or may even stop intakes altogether. Survivors may also fear entering shelters because of being in close quarters with groups of people.
  • Survivors who are older or have chronic heart or lung conditions may be at increased risk in public places where they would typically get support, like shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.
  • Travel restrictions may impact a survivor’s escape or safety plan – it may not be safe for them to use public transportation or to fly.
  • An abusive partner may feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.

With bars closed and restaurants not serving alcohol, sales have surged for alcohol delivery and online orders. USC News reports, “economic dislocation, job loss and fear of death by disease are triggers for substance use, which heightens the risk of other issues like suicide and domestic violence,” according to Daryl Davies, professor of clinical pharmacology at the USC School of Pharmacy and director of the Alcohol and Brain Research Laboratory at USC. In order to cope with anxiety and worry, many are turning to alcohol to self-medicate. 

Help Is Available

For those struggling with alcohol dependence, the impact of isolation can be even more amplified. Certain resources may be harder to access due to social distancing. Thankfully, technology has made it easier to connect with our loved ones. Those who are struggling with alcohol should find support in speaking with friends, family members, therapists, or anyone who may provide encouragement. As the duration of social distancing extends, some programs have also begun offering virtual 12-Step meetings available online.  

The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends that those with friends or family members experiencing abuse remember that you cannot make decisions for them, but can encourage your loved one to think about their wellbeing, establish a safety plan, and practice self-care while in their own home. If you need help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 for TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.


Sobering Up

NHTSA Awards $562 Million in Highway Safety Grants

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced the allocation of $ 562 million in grant funds to offices of highway safety in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Grant Money to Support Road Safety Awareness Programs

The funds are earmarked to address impaired driving, promote seat belt use, improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and fund other important traffic safety efforts, according to the U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.  

Additionally, the agency announced that $ 297 million in state and community highway safety program funds will further enhance highway safety through activities such as the Click It or Ticket program related to seat belt use, and the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign related to impaired driving. 

Funds to Fight Impaired Driving

A large chunk of the funds – $ 147.5 million – will be dedicated to impaired driving countermeasures, to combat driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Among the many programs receiving funding through state and local grants, $ 2.1 million has been identified to fund 24/7 sobriety programs and to use for testing or monitoring of individuals charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. 

How the Grants are Divvied Up 

The top 10 states receiving NHTSA grants were California ($ 50.1 million); Texas ($ 39.2 million); New York ($ 29 million); Florida ($ 26.1 million); Illinois ($ 21.1 million); Pennsylvania ($ 19.8 million); Ohio ($ 17.8 million); Michigan ($ 16.4 million); Georgia ($ 15.4 million); and New Jersey ($ 14.6 million).

The official NHTSA announcement can be found here


Sobering Up

After One Year With Stricter DUI Laws, Utah Arrest Data Appears Mixed

On Dec. 30, 2019, the state of Utah marked one year under revised DUI laws that reduced the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) used to identify drivers as impaired–down from 0.08% to 0.05%. The Beehive State was the first in the union—and remains the only state thus far—to adopt this lower BAC designation. 

Now that the law has been on the books for a full calendar year, the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) has released 2019 data, reporting that arrest numbers have remained steady. Annually, the state tracks approximately 10,000 DUI arrests. 

However, shortly after releasing that data, the final numbers for DUI arrests in Utah over the New Year’s holiday were released. Arrests during that time doubled over last year’s figures, and 39 people were arrested for DUI on New Year’s Eve alone. The UHP attributes this change to a higher number of troopers on the road compared to 2018, suggesting that they simply caught more of these drivers in the act because of the increased patrol capabilities. 

Is Utah’s DUI Law Effective at Reducing Impaired Driving?

According to the UHP (via The Salt Lake City Tribune), the purpose of the 0.05 change was not about arresting people that wouldn’t have otherwise been arrested but rather was intended to encourage drivers to make better decisions. Of the approximately 10,000 DUI arrests in Utah each year, individuals with a BAC of between 0.05% and 0.079% account for only 7% of those arrests. 

While that may be the case, The National Transportation Safety Board has noted that impairment can begin with as little as one drink and has recommended that all states shift to the 0.05% standard adopted by Utah. Many pose the question as to if this change will positively impact the issue of impaired driving; this recently released 2019 data coming out of Utah will likely continue to fuel the debate.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.


Sobering Up

GHSA Releases Report on Combating Threat of High-Risk Impaired Drivers

This week, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) in partnership with Responsibility.org released a report, High-Risk Impaired Drivers: Combating a Critical Threat, which emphasizes the need for a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing the pervasive problem of High-Risk Impaired Drivers (HRIDs). HRIDs are impaired driving offenders who are likely to drive with a BAC of .15 g/dL or higher repeatedly, often due to a combination of drugs and alcohol. These drivers cause about one-third of all impaired driving deaths annually and are resistant to changing behavior despite sanctions, treatment, or education. 

The approach outlined in this report centers around involving practitioners from many disciplines collaborating to identify the root cause of an offender’s behavior and then determining what sanctions should be administered in what is referred to as individualized justice. This approach may include alcohol/drug monitoring technologies, transdermal alcohol testing, intensive supervision that holds the offender accountable, and individualized treatment and aftercare. Individualized justice is now identified by criminal justice experts as being more effective at deterring HRIDs than the traditional legislative response of heavy fines and incarceration. 

A few key takeaways from this report: 

  • Alcohol-impaired fatalities accounted for 29% of all U.S. motor vehicle fatalities in 2018, the lowest percentage since 1982 when NHTSA began reporting alcohol data. This equates to 10,511 people losing their lives in motor vehicle crashes involving at least one driver with a BAC of .08 or higher. 
  • Drugs—both legal (including prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as cannabis in some states) and illegal—are playing an increasingly more prevalent and dangerous role in motor vehicle crashes. Between 2006 and 2016, the rate of fatally injured drivers that tested positive for drugs increased from 28% to 44%. 
  • All motorists who drive impaired pose a hazard to themselves and others but the greater the level of impairment the higher the crash risk. Sixty-six percent of the drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2018 had BAC levels at or above .15. These impaired drivers are involved in more than 60% of the alcohol-impaired driving deaths each year.
  • Drivers with BACs of .08 or higher, who were involved in fatal crashes, were also 4.5 times more likely to have prior convictions for DUI than drivers with no alcohol (9% and 2%, respectively). These repeat offenders cause about one-third of all impaired driving deaths annually, a statistic that has remained relatively unchanged for years. 
  • Local DUI task forces, such as the York County Target 25 Program, are taking on high-risk impaired drivers with new approaches. Target 25 deals with the 25 percent of the county’s docket that are repeat offenders (hence the program name) and has reduced the occurrence of pretrial recidivism for impaired drivers by more than 90 percent. 
  • Working collaboratively, we can break the dangerous and deadly cycle of recidivism and ultimately put an end to impaired driving fatalities on our nation’s roadways. Doing so requires moving away from a conviction-centered approach to an individualized justice approach that focuses on getting to the heart of the HRID’s abuse of alcohol and/or other substances.


Sobering Up

NHTSA: Drunk Driving Fatalities Down for Second Year in a Row

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released 2018 data regarding fatal motor vehicle crashes that revealed an encouraging trend. According to the report, the number of people killed in crashes on U.S. roadways has decreased for the second consecutive year. And what’s more, drunk driving fatalities followed suit. In 2018, drinking-related fatalities decreased by 3.6 percent, accounting for 29 percent of overall fatalities—the lowest percentage since 1982, when NHTSA began reporting alcohol data. 

*An alcohol-impaired driving fatality is defined as a fatality in a crash involving a driver or motorcycle rider (operator) with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or greater.

Possible Explanations for Reduction in Impaired Driving Fatalities

Since the early 1980s, there has been a general downward trend in traffic fatalities. Safety programs such as those increasing seat belt use and reducing impaired driving are often attributed to this shift. And, while it is still a major issue, the number of fatalities in distraction-affected crashes has begun to decline (down 12.4 percent since 2017).

The Role of Vehicle Advancement

Vehicle improvements such as airbags and electronic stability control have contributed greatly to the reduction of traffic deaths, according to another report from NHTSA. “New vehicles are safer than older ones and when crashes occur, more new vehicles are equipped with advanced technologies that prevent or reduce the severity of crashes,” NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens said.

Alcohol a Major Factor in Pedestrian Fatalities

While driving fatalities were down, the number of fatalities involving pedestrians and cyclists actually increased, 3.4 percent and 6.3 percent respectively. Both of these categories are the highest they have been since 1990. 

The largest risk factor appears to come from the time of day that the accident occurred (76 percent took place after dark). Other factors included pedestrians who were not at intersections (74 percent) and alcohol in the system of the pedestrian (38 percent). And all these factors are more prominent in urban areas than in rural. 

State Drunk Driving Data

While fatality numbers decreased overall, there were a few states in the U.S. that experienced an increase in drunk driving fatalities. For those that had an increase, many were due to the generally smaller population of that state, such as New Hampshire (+77.8%), Montana (+38.6%), and Alaska (+31.8%). However, more populated states such as Ohio (-10.6%), Michigan (-12.5%) and Illinois (-13.4%), made the biggest impact on the positive trend by reducing the percentages of fatalities within their larger populations. (For the full report of Total and Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities by State for 2017-2018, review page 9 of the NHTSA report)

Forecast for 2019

In addition to the 2018 numbers, NHTSA also released initial estimates for the first half of 2019, which suggest that this overall positive trend may be continuing.  According to the report, the estimated number of fatalities in the six months of the year declined by 3.4 percent from the same period in 2018, with 589 fewer fatalities over that time. While final numbers for 2019 won’t be released until well into 2020, the positive movement toward reduction of traffic fatalities—including those involving alcohol—is very encouraging.  


Sobering Up

Cars May Soon Determine if You’ve Had Too Much to Drink

Shortly after consuming that last drink, you choose to get in your car and drive home. Unwise as that decision may be, it’s yours to make. Soon, that decision may be made for you—by your car.

With more than 10,000 lives and $ 44 billion lost as a result of drunk driving each year, private car companies and public safety agencies are implementing new technological innovations in an effort to curb drunk driving. The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), which includes two technological approaches to assess driver impairment, may be available within the next year. Carmaker Volvo hopes to end fatalities with in-car cameras standard on all new models starting in the early 2020s. 

DADSS—Measuring Breath and BAC

The DADSS research program is a collaboration between the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), representing automakers and The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA), a federal institution committed to reducing injuries and economic costs related to traffic crashes.  

In development since 2008, the DADSS collaboration leaders say that portions of their systems will be ready for use in new commercial fleet vehicles in 2020 after extensive use in both public and private fleets in 2018 and 2019. 

The DADSS takes two different technological approaches to prevent drunk driving: 

The breath-based system is designed to take readings as the driver breathes normally while distinguishing between the driver’s breath and that of any passengers. 

Breath-based system model. Image courtesy of  DADSS.org

The touch-based system, located in the start button or steering wheel, will measure BAC levels with infrared light directed into the driver’s fingertip.

The DADSS system would not allow the device-enabled car to start if the breath or the touch system fails. 

To enter the market the DADSS systems must not adversely affect sober drivers and require little maintenance or owner involvement. Will the DADDS technology prevent or deter impaired driving while meeting consumer needs and lasting for the lifetime of the vehicle? Will these devices be tamper-proof, reliable, and effectively prevent impaired driving? 

Volvo’s Sensory Approach to Drunk Driving

Volvo announced in March 2019 that starting in the early 2020s all next-generation cars of specific models would be equipped with in-car cameras that will be able to see and feel driver behavior that may be linked to impaired-driving from intoxication. The cars will sense behavior such as distracted driving, slow reaction times, and excessive weaving.  

If such behavior is detected, the system will intervene with a call to Volvo’s on-call assistance service, limiting the car’s speed, or even actively taking control of the car and bringing it to a stop. 

Intoxication Distraction Intervention system model. Video courtesy of Volvo

When this advanced software system detects impaired driving, what will be the consequences for the impaired driver, if any? As a private entity, the Volvo company is not authorized to make an arrest. Will the on-call service contact local law enforcement? Perhaps the impaired, informed driver will get to determine their level of impairment and what to do about it. 

Both of these new technologies will be available only in new cars, not for installation or adaption to vehicles already on the road. The life-saving potential of these technologies may be lost in the statistics: One study has estimated that there were 112 million alcohol-impaired driving episodes in 2010. In that same year, only 11.5 million new cars and trucks were sold.

What do you think of the ability of these new technologies to limit drunk driving—will they act as a deterrent to getting behind the wheel, or stop impaired driving once you’re on the road? Will they have any effect at all? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. 


Sobering Up

Survey Shows Americans Favor Alternative Ways to Combat Drunk Driving

In recent years, progress on reducing the number of drunk driving deaths has seemingly stalled. Alcohol-impaired driving consistently accounts for approximately a third of all traffic fatalities. In 2017 that translated to 10,874 fatalities from crashes involving drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher. 

While there is no silver bullet to address drunk driving, critics suggest more could be done to make America’s roads safer. A recent survey by NORC at the University of Chicago, sponsored by the National Safety Council, asked U.S. drivers about their support for some underutilized traffic-safety strategies. In relation to drunk driving, the survey asked about attitudes toward lowering the legal BAC limit for drivers, use of sobriety checkpoints, and alternative sanctions for repeat DWI offenders. 

Each respondent was given background information and research statistics on the strategies they would be evaluating so they could make informed judgments. Respondents were largely in favor of these strategies, with especially strong support for the measures to keep alcohol-impaired individuals from driving and to keep DUI offenders sober.  

1. Sobriety Checkpoints 

Decades of research has proven that checkpoints are highly effective in deterring drinking and driving. Widespread use of sobriety checkpoints could reduce fatalities by at least 8%. Adding passive alcohol sensors at checkpoints to detect alcohol-impaired drivers would increase detection by 50%. Only 12 states conduct sobriety checkpoints on a weekly basis, and several states have laws prohibiting the use of checkpoints.  

Almost a third of the survey respondents said that checkpoints should be conducted every weekend in their community, with 64.7% of the respondents in favor of monthly checkpoints. Of those surveyed, 68.2% were in favor of police using passive alcohol sensors at sobriety checkpoints to increase detection and enforcement. 

From Underutilized Strategies in Traffic Safety: Results of a Nationally Representative Survey

2. Ignition Interlocks and Alcohol Monitoring Anklets

All 50 states have some form of alcohol ignition interlock device laws, and installation of the interlocks can reduce repeat offenses by approximately 70% while the devices are installed. As such, it is not surprising that more than 80% of survey respondents favored requiring all convicted DWI offenders to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles.

From Underutilized Strategies in Traffic Safety: Results of a Nationally Representative Survey

However, on average only about one-fifth of eligible offenders actually install the device on their car. In response, 71.9% of those surveyed were in favor of alternative sanctions—such as house arrest or required abstinence with an alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet—for convicted DWI offenders who refuse ignition interlock devices. Monitored sobriety has been shown to support long-term behavior change in repeat and hardcore drunk drivers—the individuals most likely to be involved in a fatal crash.

3. Lower Blood Alcohol Limit

Currently, 49 states have a BAC limit of .08, despite the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation that all states reduce the legal BAC to 0.05. Several states such as New York, California, and Michigan are considering .05 legislation, but only one state, Utah, has a legal BAC limit of .05.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they had heard of BAC limits for driving and thought that drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher were a danger. When asked if they thought the BAC limit should be lowered to .05 in their state if the penalty would not be criminal but administrative such as a fine or license suspension, more than 57.5% were in favor. 

Life-Saving Changes

None of these strategies have been widely implemented in the United States. This may be because of the public’s lack of knowledge of their effectiveness, and subsequently the lack of push to implement them. Along with current traffic safety enforcement measures, it is projected that putting these strategies into practice could significantly reduce traffic fatalities if implemented widely across the United States.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.


Sobering Up

Infographic: Prom and Underage Drinking

Spring has arrived, the end of the school year is in sight, and prom festivities are taking place. These joy-filled celebrations too often include alcohol and the accompanying perils of underage drinking and driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), one in three alcohol-related teen traffic fatalities occurred during the prom season, from April to June. 

Encourage the young people in your life to avoid alcohol use and drunk driving during this special time in their lives. Spread the word about the dangers of underage drinking with the statistics featured in this infographic and increase awareness of the dangerous consequences of underage drunk driving.

Infographic of prom, underage drinking, and the consequences.
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