Current Trends

That’s what many are asking as the NTSB puts forth a case to lower the legal drinking limit from .08 to .05, citing both driving fatalities in Europe were cut in half when they took this step and new research outlining just when impairment begins, at what level of intoxication key functions related to operating a motor vehicle diminish. And changing the legal alcohol limit, as it pertains to being behind the wheel, is just the beginning of dubious ideas to come from the National Transportation Safety Board in recent years; other questionable suggestions include the banning of cell phones behind the wheel over placing technology in vehicles that would disable mobile devices, sense potential, particularly front end collisions, and stop the car before impact, suggesting hands free device usage only to discover it is just as distracting as holding a phone or other gadget in your hand. Similarly there has been no crackdown from the NTSB or anyone else regarding the accessories placed in cars Bluetooth, satellite radio, pimp my ride style customizations that included a TV screen where the horn would normally be found, speakers so big and so loud car occupants can’t hear anything going on outside, individual states have been left ban tinted windows that interfere with law enforcement, drivers being able to see through such windows to adjust to oncoming traffic. News outlets are doing features on drowsy driving, sleep medication/prescription drug induced driving while unaware, yet the NTSB remains silent on those fronts instead choosing to attempt to lower the legal limit at which people will be considered drunk and therefor ticketed or arrested if found behind the wheel. 

The national beverage association had something to say on the proposed move; unsurprisingly they are against it, but their argument has less to do with the impact on their business, industry if people are consuming less alcohol and more to do with who is consuming what amounts of alcohol and who should be the NTSB’s real target. They state, also with findings and research to back up their claim, the people causing fatal and injury producing accidents aren’t the persons who would blow a .05 or even .08 on a standard breathalyzer test, rather persons who are way beyond that blowing not even the now seemingly ancient legal level .10, but a .2 or something more eye popping; likewise brought into the conversation repeat offenders, people who have been arrested, ticketed multiple times for DWI/DUI and continue to drink excessively then get into their car and drive. Quickly added to this group are people driving on suspended, revoked licenses, driving without a license at all, persons embodied by the mother whose 11 year old son dialed 911 after she forced him to blow into her breathalyzer installed on her vehicle post several DUI charges, individuals who likely have an alcohol problem requiring rehab not just another court appearance or a stint in jail. When contrasting the extremely positive results in Europe no doubt many are hoping can be duplicated here, the spokesperson highlighted several things including a different drinking culture, different driving culture, different public transportation culture across the pond, across the European union than is found in America; you know something is missing when an organization like Mothers Against Drunk Driving is not endorsing such a proposal. Drunk driving is only one piece of the overall accident puzzle and it is not even the most preventable; in fact focusing only on drunk driving rules out other types of reckless, impaired driving done by similar minded individuals who will get high on illicit drugs then get in their cars, willfully abuse prescription drugs to get high and try to drive during, afterwards.                  

Of course the NTSB’s stated mission is to put forth suggestions, ideas, strategies, new laws, changes to existing laws that will decrease driving injuries and most importantly fatalities; however, their last two major recommendations have left out a lot of key categories that add up to injuries and death while on the road, not to mention the state, federal and local cost for crash cleanup, debris removal and repair work following any accident, especially preventable ones. Among the chief other causes, besides the ever present chatter about cellphones, mobile devices leading to distracted driving, are sleep deprived drivers commuting long distances for jobs, thinking they can sacrifice sleep for family time, a second or third job to save the mortgage in these tough times; related to that are the chronic insomniacs who don’t sleep all night or some nights, who sleep less than 5 hours a night getting up to drive themselves to work, their kids to school, run basic errands with a mental capacity equivalent to someone who is drunk. Yet during the recession up to present day people heralded on the news are the ones stringing together many part time jobs to make ends meet, those working multiple full time or a combination of full and part time jobs to make it; the NTSB remaining silent on the danger such a mentality can pose when the risk is falling asleep at the wheel. Despite numerous news segments, public health alerts, we still see story after story involving those under the influence of doctor prescribed medication who have no clue they are even driving, have no memory of being on the road until they have caused an accident an officer is informing them they plowed into a fire hydrant, another vehicle, killed a person while taking Ambien. Regardless of warning labels on the pills, strenuous caution from their physician, people continue to abuse this medication by either taking it then immediately getting behind the wheel, getting behind the wheel before getting the recommended amount of sleep, or even more dangerously common, mixing sleep and other medications, muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety regiments, taking too much of Ambien and its classification of drugs, combining specifically Ambien and alcohol with disastrous results. And while sleeping pill prescriptions have gotten most of the negative credit for unusual sleep activities, activities normally done during waking hours suddenly done by people broadening the term sleep walking, there is a whole section of sleep disorders coming to light as more and more individuals are diagnosed with them that have visitors to sleep clinics across the nation banging their heads, beating people up, eating the contents of their refrigerators, consuming non-food items such as soap, brillo pads all while their brain is in a sleep state regardless of if their eyes are wide open and they look fully alert.

One new study out of Australia shows just how distracting having your children in the car with you can be and Nightline’s own investigation demonstrated just that with one American mom also news anchor. The camera footage noted how many times she took her eyes off the road to answer one of her children, take hold of a snack wrapper, point out sights, look at her cellphone and yet she was surprised when she received a 5-6 out of 10 from the safety expert, considering herself to be a pretty safe driver prior to her participation. A parent who obviously has never heard of the car rules suggested by experts including, if the kids are going to eat in the car pack simple, no mess finger foods and a drink with a lid, before getting in the car reminding kids that if they drop something you can’t pick it up until the car stops, you reach your destination, tempted to glance at your cellphone, get the app that disables the phone and alerts the caller, text-er you are driving and will answer when you’re not. Building on those basics, pulling the car over to the side of the road at the nearest capable stopping point when your toddler starts a tantrum, when a fight breaks out, settling it then getting back on the highway, not being afraid to turn the car around and go home if they don’t behave. Tailor car rules to your family and your issues; providing a basic list of things mommy/daddy need to know about while driving down the road and what can wait until later employing car songs, simple word and guessing games, allowing them to bring a book, letting a teen or tween use headphones to tune out annoying siblings and making use of built in DVD players can keep the peace as you drive down the road keeping kids engaged, your eyes on the road and your hands at 10 and 2. Avoiding long car trips with little ones on a routine basis is paramount with toddlers who love to wiggle; also consider the number of people in your family, the number of people you transport frequently, making sure there is room for the occupants can cut down on fights when they can actually keep their hands and feet to themselves without being scrunched up, overcrowded and uncomfortable every time you load up.      

A man driving an out of control car into a parade injuring dozens appeared to have had some sort of medical episode behind the wheel; something we’ve also seen repeatedly, usually featured on the news thanks to a frantic cellphone call from a child passenger reporting an unconscious mom, dad, uncle, grandma, a brave tween who took hold of the wheel and managed to keep the car on the road. At the same time people across all age groups, though typically middle aged to older drivers, have mixed up the gas and the break causing everything from drive through finder bender to taking out sides of entire buildings usually super and convenience stores; how this is possible few understand who actually drive unless they chalk it up to the rampant inattention we see everywhere today. Relatedly, how many elderly drivers have been the cause of accidents because their reaction times have slowed, they got confused about where they were going, which lane they needed to be in, mixed up road sign meanings, forgot some road sign meanings, were driving too slowly on a highway, road with minimum speed? Again the news is doing segments on aging baby boomers and when it’s time to have that conversation with mom, dad, grandpa about giving up the keys, not anyone from the NTSB, not one whiff of a mention making sure cities, states are at the very least aware of statistical data correlating the positives surrounding having such conversations and keeping your aging family members safe as well as other members of the general public, not a cut off age or guidelines regarding skill level and signs to look for in an older driver that indicate they are no longer safe to be on the road whether you are someone administering a practical driving test, retest or are a concerned loved one. The question is why not with the number of baby boomers reaching retirement growing by thousands daily, the number of Americans reaching senior citizen status, multiplying at almost the same rate?

Where are the public service, announcements campaigns, initiatives about any one of these things, before we cycle back to talking about drunk driving because it seems to be what the NTSB does best; where are the legalities surrounding toughening penalties for people who mix alcohol and sleeping medications resulting in an accident, god forbid a fatality, where are the penalties for doctors nearly handing out sleeping pill scripts as if they were candy, not knowing their patient well enough to know they may have a substance abuse problem, a psychological problem requiring larger treatment than a simple pill, may have a neurological problem that necessitates further examination, investigation or simply have poor sleep habits that can be corrected with behavior modifications?  Where is so much as a pamphlet naming resources for sandwich generation members about talking to aging parents regarding their driving and other safety concerns, increased stringency of criteria addressing the issue of people having medical episodes behind the wheel?  Right now people with conditions like epilepsy must remain seizure free for 6 months before being allowed to drive again. Moving it to a year might be one strategy; requiring physicals for all new drivers and yearly, every 2 years health checks for drivers between certain age brackets could be another way to prevent people from keeling over while operating a motor vehicle. Increasing the standards for obtaining a license in the first place is a popular concept with almost everyone, which led to the graduated licensing programs nationwide not giving teens, new drivers a complete license for 2 years after they take their initial permit test and log X number of hours on the road with a licensed driver over 21. Now it seems driving exams need to focus more on skills testing than logging hours on the road barring people who can’t make proper turns, constantly cutting people off, tailgating, can’t change lanes or handle roundabouts from obtaining a license until they can.

Classifying everyone whose has 1to 3 drinks at dinner, in a bar, at a home celebration for a birthday,BarMitzvah isn’t going to cut it either whether your approach is reducing injuries/fatalities or dealing with the significantly alcohol/substance impaired persons driving the streets. Targeting drunk driving specifically, persons blowing these jaw dropping breathalyzer numbers that no doubt have offices wondering how they are still standing upright never mind driving, should immediately lose their license permanently, particularly anyone who has caused an accident, even if it was only their own car they wreck.  Get caught after that driving without a license, go to jail for a minimum sentence to be determined on a local level; no more of these flagrant repeat offenders clogging up traffic court, appearing in higher court junctions as their offenses accumulate, become more serious. Only a teenager to the age of 25 blowing large alcohol numbers should remotely be eligible to ever drive a car again post a lengthy say 15 year suspension of their license. Blow a .08, a .10; you get one warning, between the ages of 16-25 two warnings, beyond that no more license for you, because you have proven you are not a safe driver. Reinforcing the idea driving a vehicle is serious business; it’s not a game, it’s not a toy, we aren’t talking big wheels and go carts, we’re talking about huge machines that can kill people if not properly handled. Bringing us to the next point in how to drastically improve road safety beginning with a massive reeducation campaign for the holders of specialty licenses to drive, buses, trains, cabs any form of public transportation used by the masses; drilling home the concept of just how egregious, not to mention dangerous, it is to text, talk on the phone, play games on your phone while passengers depend on you to get them where they need to go. Coinciding with said reeducation, elevating the standards to receive any of the aforementioned licensing hopefully weeding out people such as the ones driving busses, commuter trains and fiddling with their phones at the same time.  

Last but certainly not least, technology is part of the problem today factoring in distracted driving, medication impaired driving, medical condition, medical episode impeded driving; it can also be part of the solution. Technology molded into the making of your average car has increased 10 fold in the last 50 years from air conditioning and radio to Bluetooth, satellite radio, I pod plugins, GPS, On-Star, electronic brains and computer parts woven into core functions of your vehicle; so why can’t something as low tech as a breathalyzer hooked to the ignition be a standard safety feature just as seatbelts and air bags are, a basic retrofit mandatory for all cars by year X?  You must blow into the apparatus before your engine will start; if you are at or above the legal limit, the car doesn’t start. Further why is the NTSB continuing in technological ignorance, operating on a tech phobia, presenting antiquated ideas instead of embracing existing, nearly on the market advances that can and will not only save lives but render many of these debates over devices and driving, legal limits, irrelevant? Front end collision sensors and all their various angles, attributes are already being rolled out by car manufacturers in order to gain the highest safety rating and entice customers to buy their brand, their latest model; why isn’t the newest push from the NTSB to make such systems are mandatory for all cars within 2-5 years, like the European Union did for all model cars this year and beyond? Why isn’t part of their goal of reaching zero drunk driving accidents, fatalities a much bigger picture encompassing comparable retrofits for all cars within 10-20 years? Because, between breathalyzers hooked to engines and collision sensor technology with all its components, it covers everything from the person bawling on the phone about their breakup to their best friend while trying to drive, driving while screaming at the catering company about a menu mess, complaining to your friends about your mother in, you kids, to the squirrel or turtle you tried not to hit, the fight you tried to break up in the back seat and therefore didn’t see the car ahead cut you off, the coffee you spilled in your lap, the sleepy driver, the overmedicated driver, the medical episode no one saw coming. This is the comprehensive strategy needed to bring the problem of driving safety to a close once and for all as opposed to one the dimensional problem solving seen over and over today.