Highway crashes on our nation’s highways result in tens of thousands of deaths and millions of injuries every year. Each death or injury to a motorist causes the same pain and suffering for their family as when the loss is from a terrorist-inspired attack. We have spent trillions of dollars on the “war on terror” and it is a major topic in our political discourse, yet the deaths and injuries from these attacks are a very small fraction of those caused by highway crashes. Maybe we should direct more attention and resources to reducing the carnage on our highways.
Identifying and reforming or removing problem drivers could drastically reduce the frequency of highway accidents. According to some research studies as few as 10% of drivers cause at least 50% of serious crashes. These drivers can be identified by their regular behavior of driving while impaired, speeding, changing lanes abruptly, tailgating, failing to use turn signals, ignoring traffic control devices, and allowing distractions such as texting. We see them everyday.
The solution to this problem is two-fold:
- Significant expansion of traffic enforcement
- Stiffer penalties for serious driving offenses, particularly for repeat offenders
My first step suggestion is to establish a separate division in each police force whose primary function is to enforce traffic regulations. These traffic patrol officers would be specially trained to recognize and concentrate their efforts upon those driver actions that are known causal factors of highway collisions. In addition to addressing the problem driver issue an increased traffic police patrol presence would undoubtedly improve the driving behavior of the generally law-abiding motorist.
This new traffic division should be augmented by specially trained civilian accident investigators who would not require the normal police academy training. This practice, currently being used by many police agencies, generally results in cost savings and improved accident investigation procedures that lead to better police reports, and thus a fairer adjudication of responsibility, as well as higher quality data for subsequent reconstruction and causal identification efforts. A corollary benefit of this program is that it allows other police officers to direct their efforts to normal crime investigation and law enforcement.
A few pilot programs should be developed to assess the success of this approach and to identify necessary alterations and improvements. The costs of this enlarged traffic enforcement effort could then be compared to the financial, social and job creation benefits derived from its implementation.
An additional inexpensive traffic enforcement aid to identify bad drivers and to promote good driving is the installation of traffic cameras at busy intersections. The privacy concerns raised by this practice are essentially no different than the use of unmarked police vehicles or public and private security cameras.
The second essential step is the imposition of stiffer penalties for willful disregard of traffic laws by the problem driver. It is recognized that legislative and judicial action appropriate to the seriousness of the problem is required. Owning and operating a 3000-pound deadly weapon should be considered a responsibility, not a legal right.
More information on related topics can be found in Highway Accidents: Investigation, Reconstruction and Causation available at: Amazon.com. Information about the book and author is available at: www.bmorrow.com.