Better US Road Safety Culture may be as Important as Vision Zero

Just yesterday, we posted excerpts and our comments regarding the Road Safety Annual Report 2019, and America’s poor performance by comparison with the vast majority of other developed nations.

This is what?  “My pick-up is bigger than your car, so I’m coming across!”?  (Copyright image, 2017.)

It has long been known that one of the key features in highway safety is the overall attitude of the people in the region or country concerned — the ‘road safety culture’.

Another arrogantly dangerous driver who, having taken the wrong exit, veered across the gore, back onto the main highway, causing the truck at the left to swerve to miss him. It was pure good fortune that there were no vehicles in the far left lane.  (Copyright image, 2019.)

This is a massively pervasive issue.  It affects and is affected by lawmakers, automakers, federal and state government departments, highway engineers, law enforcement departments, the judiciary, driver training & testing, drivers themselves, and vulnerable road users: the motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians… everybody, in fact.

I took this photo while my driver was braking quite hard!  (Copyright image, 2017.)

Road safety culture significantly affects the frequency or rareness of the many dangerous behaviours which result in crash deaths, such as drunk driving, speeding, and the presence or lack of care towards other people.

Indeed, a few months ago, following a three-week road trip in what is currently the leading road-safety country in the world, I posted ‘Road Safety Lessons from Norway – Introduction‘, pondering how this Scandinavian nation was achieving such excellent results.

In that article, I wrote that it was my educated but not research-based belief that despite many challenges, such as a vast proportion of rural roads, Norway is so safe in large part because of its people’s good overall attitude — their road safety culture.

Similarly, I would suggest that America’s potentially biggest problem with road safety is exactly the same thing, but this time, regrettably, it is the people’s poor overall attitude.

A bus driver stops his bus a full lane away from the sidewalk, and this child’s mother (who emerged moments later) allowed this little boy to alight into an active traffic lane.  (Copyright image, 2019.)

Am I blaming the entire population of America?  No, far from it.  But I am blaming the selfishness, greed and short-sightedness which arguably originated from the automakers who wanted absolute priority in society for their vehicles, and I believe that this ‘cars first’ attitude has spread like a cancer, to the point where the American people have been paying for decades with 35-40,000 lives and hundreds of thousands of debilitating injuries, every year… stunningly unacceptable figures.

Three car-loads of family or friends putting themselves in lethal danger while a wheel is being changed on the side of a highway. Just imagine if a drowsy or distracted truck driver hit the rearmost car! (Copyright image, 2019.)

One of the biggest targets in improving traffic safety in the USA has to be the improvement of attitudes — a major task.  ‘Vision Zero’, that is currently a major focus, is indeed a wonderful and proven approach, but if carried out in isolation, I would suggest that it will be nowhere near as successful as we all wish it to be.

2 Replies to “Better US Road Safety Culture may be as Important as Vision Zero”

  1. I completely agree. It starts with education and continues with reminders, PSAs, campaigns and enforcement. Do you have any articles or statistics about the importance of education in changing driving culture?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anne Marie. (And we really mean that… making comments here in the website helps us greatly in relation to search engines, whereas comments on our Facebook posts do not.)

      I tend to fall back on an excellent book, ‘Improving Traffic safety in the United States,’ which was published by the AAA Foundation in 2007. That may seem somewhat dated but it contains 22 papers on the topic and offers more or less that same number of points of view.

      If you wish to find the most up-to-date material, a Google search for ‘traffic safety culture’ will certainly help but you will then very frequently be met with the major challenge that separates the vast majority of front-line practitioners and advocates from the necessary information — the cost! Research papers are commonly ~$50 each so the cost of building up and then continually maintaining a library is seriously prohibitive.

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