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National View: Avoiding travel tragedies is simple: Slow down

From the column: "A bit of planning ahead can help keep you on time without feeling the necessity to speed."

Memorial Day
Bruce Plante/Cagle Cartoons
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The news on the traffic-safety front is quite discouraging this Memorial Day weekend. Two research reports have come out in just the past week or so from the Governors Highway Safety Association with estimates on traffic fatalities last year. The numbers are frightening.

The association reported that deaths in 2021 on our nation’s roads and highways rose to a 16-year high of 42,915, an increase of 10.5% from 2020. At the same time, pedestrian fatalities skyrocketed to a 40-year high of 7,485, an 11.5% increase over the previous year.

The most common contributor to these tragic numbers is speed, along with alcohol impairment, followed by distraction. All of these factors can be easily limited, since they are the result not of “accidents” but of conscious decisions made by drivers.

From the editorial: "Let’s get this out of the way first: Be prepared to spend more, no matter where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and where you’re staying once you’ve arrived."

We know all too well the reasons not to drink and drive. Thanks to the longtime efforts of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, social mores have changed and drunk drivers are now viewed by most as social pariahs.

Speeding, however. is seen in a different light. Most of us drive too fast and sometimes exceed posted speed limits. Speeding is generally seen as a harmless, if annoying, thing. After all, we’re all in a hurry. The relatively small penalties for speeding generally reflect that “we all do it” attitude.

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But the reality is speed can make a difference between life and death on the road. It’s a matter of physics. The faster you’re going when you hit something — or someone — the more severe the impact. Higher speeds mean an exponential increase in the risk of serious injury or death. Speeding-related deaths rose by 5% last year, according to the association.

The solution is painfully simple. Slow down.

A bit of planning ahead can help keep you on time without feeling the necessity to speed.

Passengers, who comprise about 62% of all traffic fatalities, can also help by speaking up when in a vehicle being driven too fast or too aggressively. Don’t worry about being called a back-seat driver. After all, it’s your life at risk, as well as the driver’s and lives of others on the road or on sidewalks alongside the road. Let the driver know you’re speaking up because you value your life and that of the driver.

There’s so much more that can be done to drive the tragic numbers down, including “road-calming” infrastructure like roundabouts and lane-narrowing road markings. We with the National Road Safety Foundation support such efforts that are promoted in many cities by local zero-deaths initiatives.

But much of the change will come from personal choices each of us can make when we drive. It’s painfully obvious and simple.

Slow down, and pay attention, to save lives.

Michelle Anderson is director of operations at the New York City-based nonprofit National Road Safety Foundation (nfrs.org).

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Michelle Anderson.jpg
Michelle Anderson

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