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Another Voice: Poor road safety record gets worse at the holidays

By Brian D. Knauth

The holiday season is upon us, which means parties and visits with families and friends. In December we take time off from our day-to-day lives to celebrate our connections, and getting to those connections usually means driving.

Unfortunately, car travel has become one of the most dangerous activities for Americans. While other developed countries have reduced fatalities on their roads, in the U.S. we’ve seen increases in accidents resulting in serious injuries and deaths.

As of 2015, out of eight industrialized countries, the U.S. had seven fatalities for every billion vehicle miles traveled compared to 5.9 in France and 3.2 in Sweden. Our neighbor Canada has 5.1.

Automobile accidents claim 30 lives each day in the United States. The number itself is significant, but what makes it worse is many of these deaths could easily be prevented by changing drivers’ behavior and using available safety devices.

Speed is the biggest factor in car accidents. Seventy-four percent of U.S. drivers exceed speed limits, compared to 45 percent in the Netherlands, and 22 percent in the United Kingdom. Speed cameras slow drivers down, and installing more of them on our highways would save lives. Increased police patrols can likewise slow drivers down. However, if drivers simply slowed down, then accidents could result in less severe consequences.

One in seven Americans doesn’t wear available seat belts. If you are a driver or front seat passenger in a car, wearing a seat belt decreases your chance of dying in a car accident by 45 percent.

Americans also still use alcohol and other drugs when driving. Buzzed driving is drunk driving. Both reduce your perceptions and ability to react behind the wheel.

Texting while driving has become the scapegoat for distracted driving, but even talking on a hands-free cellphone is distracting. Then there are the multiple other things we like to do: eat, drink, put on makeup, ask our GPS for directions, blast our music – the list goes on. The Governors Highway Safety Association estimates 15 to 20 percent of all accidents are associated with distracted driving.

Driving is a task that requires all of our attention, not just a piece of it. Attorneys who handle personal injury cases see the results in their offices every day of speed, buzzed and distracted driving, and the failure to wear seat belts. This holiday season don’t speed, buckle up, don’t drive buzzed – and chances are, you won’t be talking to one of us in the new year. We actually like it that way.

Brian D. Knauth has successfully handled several hundred injury cases, including automobile accidents, for clients of Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys PLLC since joining the firm in 2000.

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