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Posted by on Apr 23, 2009 in Safety | 31 comments

38 State Police Cars Hit Last Year

This Associated Press article caught my eye.

HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut state police union leaders and Gov. M. Jodi Rell are at odds over whether to spend $600,000 in federal funds to improve markings on police cruisers.

The unions representing Connecticut’s troopers and police supervisors say there are better ways to spend the money, which is part of $12 million from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Rell’s office says 38 state police cars were hit last year while stopped, and that adding reflective chevrons on rear bumpers or other high-visibility markings will help prevent more collisions.

Union officials say while more markings would be nice, the cruisers’ flashing lights and existing markings make them easily visible to attentive drivers.

They say people who hit cruisers usually are drunk, inattentive or have other problems.

So I think about this and I wonder where it will all stop? When will government, engineers and people will stop thinking that technology will somehow solve the problem of people looking but not seeing and all the other problems that people have when driving?

First, there is the “100 Car Study” that sys that up to 80 percent of the crashes or near crashes are caused by inattentive, distracted or drowsy driving.

Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. Primary causes of driver inattention are distracting activities, such as cell phone use, and drowsiness.

“This important research illustrates the potentially dire consequences that can occur while driving distracted or drowsy. It’s crucial that drivers always be alert when on the road,” said Jacqueline Glassman, acting administrator of NHTSA.

I am seeing all sorts of odd ball things that are supposed to reduce the number of crashes caused by inattentive driving:

  1. Employees of all types now have to wear bright green or orange shirts or vests. Even when they aren’t anywhere near a road. Note that the managerial types who are out there with the workers wear normal clothes.
  2. Flashing lights on the back of Orlando Fire Department trucks that stay on all the time.
  3. Blinking tail lights
  4. Modulating motorcycle headlights
  5. An elderly woman drives into the side of the train in Mount Dora. The answer? Stop signs at every crossing ala old Georgia law.

I see very little evidence of these things actually snapping people out of their stupor. What I do see is “evidence” like you see in Mount Dora: since the stop signs went up, there has been no more train crashes. Yet, in most places in Georgia, either the crossing has been upgraded or the signs were removed. The signs were removed because they really don’t help. Some people would treat the stop signs at railroad crossings like they treat stop signs everywhere, they don’t look, if they even scan.

We have come a long way since the “lighted cannonball” kerosene torch commonly used until the ’60′s. All sorts of bright work lights, huge signs, flashing lights, police cars and all the expenses that go with all that yet cars still crash into highway construction sites, often killing people. Sixteen people killed in one Florida county in one year!

Some people’s answer is to remove the victims from the road. After all, it’s not really the driver’s fault if he accidentally hits something like a bicycle or a pedestrian. But that begins to stretch credulity.

How can someone not “see” a stopped school bus? Or a see a car legally stopped behind a school bus? It’s big, it’s yellow and it has flashing lights, but here is one man’s answer to that. According to him, it has become too dangerous to have school buses stop on busy roads and, knowing politicians these days, I doubt he is the only one that thinks so.

So the drivers keep day dreaming and the signs get bigger, the lights get brighter, the expenses keep going up and things pretty much stay the same.

It is still “your fault” if a driver doesn’t see you.

31 Comments

  1. As a society we need to take more advantage of the power of shame. Put drunk drivers mug shots on billboards; especially those who are prominent in the community. Same for careless drivers who kill.

    Shame bypasses reasoning. The thought goes from “the odds are low I’ll get caught” to “that could’ve been me.”

    I also like Norway’s approach to enforcement. Your fine is based on your income. Some drivers have paid tens of thousands of dollars for speeding tickets.

  2. Eric said: “… It’s still your fault if the driver doesn’t see you” …

    If they stop (or get caught in the first place) …

    Florida is already at 23% of all drivers being un-insured — in the top 5 in the nation — so do you think any would stop if they hit a cyclist (or car, or anything else)? Not likely ….

    Statistics from: http://www.ircweb.org/News/IRC_UM_012109.pdf

  3. I have long contended that something HAS to be done about drivers education in the US. We spend billions of dollars on highway improvements, car safety improvements, etc, but spend very little to improve driver training and education. We expect professional drivers, pilots, nurses, doctors, and many other professions to take periodic testing, continuing education and testing. But in many cases you get your driver’s license at 16 with less than 40 hours to total training, hit the roads to never be tested again. IMHO the 40 hours is obscene, and no further education or skills testing is criminal. We as a country have long lost track of the fact that driving is a privilege not a right.

    Aaron

  4. “But in many cases you get your driver’s license at 16 with less than 40 hours to total training,”

    Does Florida require ANY formal training now? When I was in HS, Driver’s Ed was a required class, but I heard that it had been done away with and I see very few student drivers in marked cars on the roads anymore.

  5. Mighk said: “As a society we need to take more advantage of the power of shame.

    I agree! In fact, forget the mug shots. Bring back the Pillory so we can throw rotten vegetables at them!

    As I said on Mighk’s blog, our culture is fostering an expectation that slow, exposed road users must dress like psychedelic Easter eggs to survive. And if they don’t, it lets the incompetent idiots off the hook. Now, I happen to enjoy looking like a psychedelic Easter egg, but that’s a personal preference… it shouldn’t be a safety standard. ;-)

    I’m with 2whls3spds on increased driver education and testing requirements. We need to stop treating a driver’s license as an entitlement and make people work for it.

    As a licensed pilot, I can tell you rigorous requirements to earn the certificate, coupled with the burden of responsibility for anything that can go wrong, keeps a person honest. If we put a fraction of the responsibility on drivers that we do on private pilots, we’d see a whole lot better behavior.

  6. Eric: No, Driver’s Ed is optional; it does get you a lower premium for your insurance — assuming you get insurance (see my earlier post) …..

    Hey Eric — do you remember when the 3rd brake light was added to autos? It was going to have a dramatic effect on safety. I found the original study — here it is:

    “In 1974, psychologist John Voevodsky tested a small, inexpensive gadget that would eventually make U.S. highways much safer. The gadget was a third brake light, mounted in the base of rear windshields so that when drivers pressed their brakes, a triangle of light warned following drivers to slow down. To test whether such a small addition would make a significant difference, Voevodsky equipped 343 San Francisco taxicabs with the third brake light and left 160 taxis with no additional light as a control group. Taxi dispatchers then randomly assigned taxi drivers to taxis with or without the third light, regardless of drivers’ expressed preferences. At the end of a 10-month experiment, taxis with a third brake light had suffered 60.6% fewer rear-end collisions than had the control-group taxis. Additionally, drivers of taxis with the third brake light that were struck in the rear by other vehicles were injured 61.1% less often than were drivers of taxis without the light, and repairs to all taxis with the light cost 61.8% less than did repairs to taxis without the light …”

    60% fewer!! Who wouldn’t agree this was a great idea and think how much $$ would be saved, how many lives!!

    And yet ….

    “…As a result, the NHTSA now requires all new cars (since 1986) and all new light trucks (since 1994) to have a third brake light. To see just how well the CHMSLs worked, the NHTSA has charted police-reported crash data from eight states, and has found that CHMSLs reduce rear impacts by 4.3%.”

    Pretty huge discrepancey between 60% and 4% …..

    Keri and you have mentioned how we need to stop relying on technolgy (e.g. bike lanes, flourescent vests, multiple blinkling LEDs, etc.) and start looking at the HUMAN behavior factors for the causes, and what can be done to change those behaviors.

  7. Regarding driver ed, once you get the hang of handling a car, it’s not all that hard. Our society assumes any adult can do it.

    And the rules of traffic are so simple, a grade schooler can learn them. Even preschoolers know that red means stop and green means go. So it’s not like there’s all that much to learn or relearn or retest.

    The problem is there are no consequences. Everybody knows what a speed limit sign is supposed to mean. Everybody knows what a red light is supposed to mean.

    But there’s very little incentive to avoid driving in risky ways. Your airbag will save you in a crash. Your insurance will repair the damage. You’re very unlikely to get a ticket for speeding or running a red light.

  8. There’s more to traffic control devices than red means stop and green means go. I bet we could quickly come up with a half dozen questions that the majority of Florida drivers would not know the answer to.

    Andrew discussed the third brake light. There is similar discussion of daytime running lights (DRLs):

    http://lightsout.org/

  9. “once you get the hang of handling a car, it’s not all that hard. Our society assumes any adult can do it.”

    And that’s a problem. When people learn from their parents, they will pick up all the bad habits their parents have without the counter balance of proper instruction. Licensing has become way too casual.

    “Handling” a vehicle is not all that hard, I learned to drive a tractor before my legs were long enough to sit and reach the pedals (my mother didn’t know about it), but THAT is not the same as learning to drive. And learning to drive on a quiet street is NOT the same as driving in traffic.

    It has been over 30 years since I have had to take a renewal test. I remember the test had lots of questions like how far I must park from a mailbox on a country road and other very important questions like that.

  10. “Hey Eric — do you remember when the 3rd brake light was added to autos?”

    Yes, I do! I was a believer since I had gotten hit twice while sitting at traffic lights. I even bought one and put in my rear window.

    I guess it worked. Nobody has hit me that way since, even though most of the cars and trucks I been driving haven’t had that third light.

  11. Keri said: “There’s more to traffic control devices than red means stop and green means go. I bet we could quickly come up with a half dozen questions that the majority of Florida drivers would not know the answer to.”

    Sure, but the basics are, by necessity, basic. The rules of traffic are pretty simple on purpose.

    Yeah, there are people who don’t know the rule for who goes first when they arrive at the same time at a stop sign. Or whether the uphill or downhill driver has to back up if they meet on a one-lane road. But the everyday stuff is obvious.

    The problem isn’t lack of knowledge. People know exactly which rules they’re breaking.

  12. Eric said: “I learned to drive a tractor before my legs were long enough to sit and reach the pedals (my mother didn’t know about it), but THAT is not the same as learning to drive. And learning to drive on a quiet street is NOT the same as driving in traffic.”

    Fair enough. But the learning curve isn’t that steep. The problem isn’t that it’s hard, it’s that it’s easy.

  13. I’m not talking about obscure laws.

    The majority of Florida drivers don’t know they have to yield to a pedestrian at a marked crosswalk. They are also required to yield at an unmarked crosswalk, but I bet only 1 in 10,000 have a clue that unmarked crosswalks even exist.

    I can’t tell you how many people have actually said, “I was in (insert a state here) this summer and they have a state law that you have to yield to pedestrians.” They’re amazed when I tell them we have the same law.

    I have stopped for a pedestrian at a crosswalk and watched as they stood in the middle of the road while opposite direction motorists just drove past them.

    I agree, the problem is that it’s easy… but even more so that people think it’s easier than it is. People think they can phone it in. Driving is mindless, boring and so easy you can do 10 other things at the same time.

  14. “But the learning curve isn’t that steep.”

    Let me give you an example of how steep it is. We have recently (within the last 15 years) had a large number of cars suddenly “losing control” on a straight, dry highway in broad daylight. So badly were these cars losing control that they would cross a 50′ grass median and smash into oncoming cars head-on, or they would careen back and forth until they flipped.

    Maybe you heard about the cause? It was Firestone tires blowing out.

    Yet, if taught properly, something that isn’t tested, I’ll bet that 90% of those wrecks needn’t have happened. The correct driving technique when having a blowout is to brace the steering wheel with your arms, then, after slowing down pulling over to the right.

    Same for if a car runs off the road. I have seen dozens of cars slip off the road, and what do they do? Do they brace their arms to keep steering straight until they slow down? No they do not. They instinctively jerk the wheel left to get back on the road. At 40 MPH, that might work, but higher than that and a flip is likely, that or oversteering and careening into oncoming traffic.

    Now where are they going to learn that? Their parents never had proper instruction either, so not from there. Yet, I can tell you that knowing that simple tactic, something that is counter intuitive, has saved my life more than once.

    Yet, when all this business started about Firestone tires and lack of tire pressure (something else taught in Driver’s Ed) not a word was said about poor driving technique. As you said, “Our society assumes any adult can do it.”

    Apparently, that assumption is wrong.

  15. More police are killed in traffic stops in this nation than any other incident (including gun violence). That alone should tell you something not only about general attitudes of traffic safety but also police attitudes. About a month ago I was driving south on Maguire when an OPD motorcycle cop walked out in front of a speeding car without any reflective vest or anything else to highlight him to stop the car for I’m assuming a speeding violation. I didn’t think that the police were made of titanium.

    When I was living in Gainesville in the early ’90s I passed a car ahead of me making a left by driving into the bicycle lane. There was no bicycle anywhere to be seen, but a cop that I hadn’t seen stopped me and ticketed me for driving in the bicycle lane. I wasn’t even aware that it was an actual traffic violation. But once it happened I became more aware of bicyclists rights.

  16. Keri said: “The majority of Florida drivers don’t know they have to yield to a pedestrian at a marked crosswalk.”

    Don’t know, or don’t care? If there are no consequences (e.g. enforcement), then there’s no incentive to care.

    I think this goes back to the pyramid, and respect for non-motorized travelers.

  17. I forgot to say “STAY OFF THE BRAKES” since that just contributes to lack of control.

    Want to know the engineering answer to this problem? Drive the Beeline and see the “cable median” that now runs the full length. What’s wrong wit that other than the expense? That cars get caught in them and flip anyway.

  18. Aside from the fact many don’t care… they really don’t know! Friends of mine who I would consider responsible drivers didn’t know until I told them. A few years ago a local doctor was at a bike/ped meeting trying to get a safe ped crossing in his neighborhood. He explained that he didn’t know until he went to Maine on vacation, learned of their law and came back and looked up the Florida vehicle statutes.

    We have to put up the big dayglo signs and flashing lights just to get motorists to acknowledge crosswalks. The problem with that is, they then think they only have to yield at the places with the signs and flashing lights.

  19. “Don’t know, or don’t care?”

    They don’t know about unmarked crosswalks. I’ve have taken an informal survey and you would, or maybe not, be surprised what they don’t know about pedestrian laws. Do you honestly think their parents know? So how would they?

    And signs don’t help. Then they get the idea that unless there is a sign, there is no law.

    But sometimes they do know. I have watched them grit their teeth and set their jaw while they drove through a crosswalk.

  20. 7 years ago, I illustrated the book Driving Survival, published by AAA. The best part of that job was how much I learned about driving that I didn’t know.

  21. “The best part of that job was how much I learned about driving that I didn’t know.”

    And I’ll bet the example of what I just said here was in it. But I learned that skill in Driver’s Ed. A basic class that I didn’t have to pay for, but was needed to graduate from high school.

  22. In NY City peds walk crosswalks in front of moving cars whether the light is red or green and whether cops are there or not. I think they call it “assertive walking.”

    When I was living in Germany I saw an old grandfatherly man (holding a little girls hand) yelling at someone for crossing a sidewalk (NY City style) while the little man was red instead of green.

  23. “When I was living in Germany I saw an old grandfatherly man (holding a little girls hand) yelling at someone for crossing a sidewalk (NY City style) while the little man was red instead of green.”

    And he was right to do so. They take their bicycle and pedestrian laws very seriously there. That means every bicycle has a bell and a headlight/tail light and bikes can’t be sold without those basic safety devices.

    Drivers must pass a very strict test. Most do not pass on their first try (I remember when that was true here also). And it is expensive to get a license as it is to register a car and to pay for gas. Buses, trams and trains are plentiful, so this is not as big a hardship as it is here.

    Yet here, bicycles are still classified as toys and as such are regulated by the same agency that regulates toys rather than the one that regulates vehicles.

    As a toy, there is no reason it should be used at night, hence no need for it to be sold with a headlight the way cars are required to have headlights.

    This only perpetuates the idea that people that ride bikes are “playing in traffic” rather than using the bicycle as a functional vehicle.

  24. Good points Eric.

    People will pay thousands of dollars for a road bike and then put a puny light on it that they didn’t pay more then $20 for.

    In Europe electronics manufacturers are now encouraged to make lights rechargeable like cell phones (to discourage battery dumping in land fills). They’re going to beat America’s pants off.

  25. “In NY City”

    And I sure wouldn’t look at NYC as a good example of driver training. In the early ’60′s they outlawed people with learner’s permits to drive in the city limits. I don’t think that law has changed.

    So, if you live in the Bronx and want to learn to drive, you have to go to New Rochelle or someplace that has lots of tree-lined quiet streets, then get your license which qualifies you to drive in lower Manhattan.

    Is that not nuttiness?

  26. Who drives in lower Manhatten besides the taxis?

  27. Eric said: “Buses, trams and trains are plentiful, so this is not as big a hardship as it is here.”

    The issues of traffic justice and driver ed and licensing always come back to the lack of viable mass transit. It is a driving force in the entitlement mentality. You can get a DUI and still get a conditional license to drive to work.

    Dennis said: “People will pay thousands of dollars for a road bike and then put a puny light on it that they didn’t pay more then $20 for.”

    Yeah, but in that case, it ain’t the money. They don’t want to add more grams to the weight of their bikes.

  28. I’m going to quit this for now. If you’re Eric Vey, that’s a cool bike you have. Bye and best.

  29. Does anyone else remember being taught the concept of “separate your obstacles” in Driver’s Ed? I do (NY state). To me, that would mean if you as a motorist want to pass a bike, wait for oncoming traffic to clear, instead of forcing it to move to its right to accommodate you encroaching into its lane to pass the bike. (Yes, I ride into the lane to prevent close passing, and they do usually give me adequate passing, but sometimes at the expense of oncoming traffic moving right to avoid them.)

  30. John said: “(Yes, I ride into the lane to prevent close passing, and they do usually give me adequate passing, but sometimes at the expense of oncoming traffic moving right to avoid them.)”

    I have the same experience on 2-lane roads. Motorists frequently interfere with oncoming traffic while giving me ample passing clearance. Another question 90% of motorists can’t answer: How many feet must there be between you an oncoming traffic after you have completed the pass?

    No vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit passing to be made without interfering with the operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. In every event an overtaking vehicle must return to an authorized lane of travel as soon as practicable and, in the event the passing movement involves the use of a lane authorized for vehicles approaching from the opposite direction, before coming within 200 feet of any approaching vehicle [§316.085].

  31. well, shucky-darn. I had read that 200 feet reference and I thought it meant that the vehicle overtaking me had to give me 200 feet of clearance. (fred wakes up from his dreamland to return to the land of nightmares)

    It’s a good thing oncoming motor vehicles tend to go into panic stop mode when someone is passing on a two-lane road, slamming on the brakes or veering off into the shoulder! They would otherwise not get their two hundred feet (one thousand toes, think about it).