National Impaired Driving Prevention Month
As impaired driving continues to senselessly kill motorists across the country, December has been officially named National Impaired Driving Prevention month. The term “impaired” couples driving under the influence of alcohol and or drugs as well as driving distracted.
In an average year, 30 million Americans drive drunk and 10 million Americans drive impaired by illicit drugs. The numbers hit close to home as well. In North Carolina there were 610 fatalities as a result of impaired driving in 2016, with 364 of those resulting from alcohol, 157 from distracted driving and 89 from driving under the influence of drugs, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. In South Carolina, there were 372 fatalities as a result of impaired driving in 2016, with 331 of those resulting from alcohol or drug use and 41 resulting from distracted driving, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.
The month of December was chosen because many motorists will hit the road to visit family and friends for the holiday season as well as New Years. Carolinians are encouraged to spread the word to end impaired driving as they go about their holiday plans.
Each day in the United States, 29 people die as a result of drunk driving, equating to one person every 50 minutes. Unfortunately, motorists drive drunk more than 300,000 times a day but only about 2,800 are arrested for it, according to MADD.
What we have seen is that close to one-third of all drivers arrested for drunk driving are repeat offenders, which means our system is failing.
Researchers’ fears came true when a study revealed that the growing opioid crisis is affecting people behind the wheel as well. According to the American Journal of Public Health, the prevalence of drivers with prescription opioids detected in their systems at the time of death surged from 1.0 percent in 1995 to 7.2 percent in 2015. The three most commonly detected opioids were oxycodone, morphine and codeine.
Additionally, nearly 70 percent of those who tested positive for prescription opioids also tested positive for other drugs and 30 percent had alcohol in their systems.
Drug-impaired driving is considered more complex than alcohol-impaired driving because though many drugs are illegal, some are legal to obtain and consume. It is also more difficult for law enforcement to detect drug impairment behind the wheel than alcohol. Lastly, laws regarding driving while under the influence vary from state to state.
It has been found that drivers spend more than half of their time in the car focused on something other than driving. When a driver looks at their phone, the distraction “latency” lasts an average of 27 seconds, meaning that even after drivers put down the phone they still aren’t fully engaged with the task of driving.
Nearly one in three drivers admit to regularly talking on a cell phone while driving, two in five admit to reading a text or email while driving and one in three admit to regularly typing or sending a text or email while driving.
Despite these staggering statistics, over 80 percent of drivers view distracted driving as a big problem.
National Impaired Driving Prevention Month:
In response to the climbing number of deaths on the road as a result of impaired driving, the entire month of December will be dedicated to raising awareness and pushing prevention methods across the nation.
- Never get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol or taking drugs. Designate a sober driver or utilize a ride-sharing service such as Uber or Lyft.
- Take the keys away from friends and family that appear intoxicated and plan to drive.
- Have an open discussion with your children about the dangers of impaired driving.
- Disconnect and drive. Do not engage in distracting behaviors behind the wheel such as using a mobile phone, manipulating the navigation, grooming or eating.
- Spread the word. Promote sober driving in your community.
How to Avoid Road Rage
As we gear up for a season full of holiday travel to visit family and friends, AAA Carolinas is reminding motorists to be weary of falling victim to the growing road rage problem.
Nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the past year, according to an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study. Even more alarming – close to eight million U.S. drivers engaged in extreme examples of road rage such as purposefully ramming another vehicle or getting out of the car to confront another driver.
In North Carolina, over 38,000 people were injured in crashes involving drivers that operated a vehicle in an erratic, reckless or aggressive manner from 2011 to 2015. Over the same time period, 55,000 crashes occurred due to aggressive driving resulting in 1,401 traffic fatalities.
Aggressive driving and road rage varied considerably among drivers:
- Male and younger drivers ages 19-39 were significantly more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors. For example, male drivers were more than three times as likely as female drivers to have gotten out of a vehicle to confront another driver or rammed another vehicle on purpose.
- Drivers living in the Northeast were significantly more likely to yell, honk or gesture angrily than people living in other parts of the country. Studies revealed drivers in the Northeast were nearly 30 percent more likely to have made an angry gesture than drivers in other parts of the country.
- Drivers who reported other unsafe behaviors behind the wheel, such as speeding and running red lights, also were more likely to show aggression. For example, drivers who reported speeding on a freeway in the past month were four times more likely to have cut off another vehicle on purpose.
In the upcoming month we expect to see more drivers on the road traveling to their holiday destinations. The increase in traffic volume coupled with the potential for icy roads could lead to more traffic incidents. Be prepared for longer wait times, slower travel speeds and the potential for out-of-town drivers who may not be familiar with the area.
AAA Carolinas urges all drivers to follow these tips to prevent road rage:
- Don’t offend. Avoiding causing another driver to change their speed or direction. Also, do not force another driver to use their breaks or turn the steering wheel in response to something you have done.
- Be tolerant of other drivers. Understand that the other driver may be having a bad day or be unfamiliar with the area. Don’t take their actions personally.
- Maintain the adequate following distance. Do not tailgate drivers even if they are going too slow.
- Allow others to merge.
- Use your turn signals.
- Use your high beams responsibly.
- Be considerate in parking lots.
- If another driver is aggressive toward you, avoid eye contact and remain calm. If you feel you are at risk, drive to a public place such as a police station or hospital.
- If you feel threatened, call 911.
2017 in the Rearview Mirror
Even though the push for safer roads is a common issue that everyone can agree on, there are still political decisions that can help or hinder that process. We have legislators advocating daily for bills that will benefit drivers in the Carolinas.
Below are the 2017 top three traffic safety legislative wins for North and South Carolina, as chosen by AAA Carolinas.
North Carolina “wins”
1. Driver Education Funding: This year’s state budget established a dedicated source of revenue for driver education classes for the first time ever. Prior to this fiscal year, driver education funding depended solely on the budget line item.
- The Appropriations Act of 2017 appropriates approximately $27 million per fiscal year to driver education.
- The proceeds will come from late fees from the Civil Penalty & Forfeiture Fund.
- This is important because without it, some public schools were considering eliminating the class.
- This funding allows North Carolina to continue with its GDL program in which drivers are required to take the class in order to get a license before the age of 18.
- To read more about this funding, click here.
2. Roads Funding: It is no secret that many areas of North Carolina have poor infrastructure. With the passage of more funding for roads, progress will continue and be expedited. There has been an increase in funds from the last fiscal year as well as new funds which are outlined below.
- The new funds increase the maintenance budget by $63.9 million in the 2017-2018 fiscal year and $103.8 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year. These funds will include:
- $5.4 million in FY 17-18 and $35.2 million in FY 18-19 for general maintenance activities.
- $30 million for high-cost deficient bridges (costing over $20 million) and $8 million for the Bridge Program, which is responsible for the maintenance, preservation, rehabilitation and replacement of NC bridges.
- $15 million recurring for pavement preservation activities.
- $5 million in FY 17-18 and $15 million in FY 18-19 for contract resurfacing.
- The new funds establish a $50 million recurring construction fund for immediate need highway construction projects.
- Additionally, the new funds establish a new Bridge Preservation Fund to employ cost effective solutions to maximize bridge life and lower lifetime cost, awarding $80 million for FY 17-18 and $85 million for FY 18-19.
- Lastly, they will increase recurring funding by $139.7 million in FY 17-18 and $180.5 million in FY 18-19 for the Strategic Transportation Investments Program fund.
3. New Requirements for Driver Education Curriculum: Driver’s ed classes will now also include the proper law enforcement procedures during traffic stops and the actions motorists should take during a traffic stop.
- House Bill 21 requires the DMV to consult with State Highway Patrol, the Sheriff’s Association and the Association of Chiefs of Police to revise the driver license handbook to include a description of law enforcement procedures.
- This will help ensure that drivers understand what to do when they are pulled over and how to act when approached by an officer. This is in an effort to avoid miscommunication based on mannerisms and behaviors.
- To read more about the curriculum, click here.
South Carolina “wins”
1. Big Roads Bill: South Carolina approved a bill that increases the state’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon over six years to pay for major road improvements. The revenue is expected to raise an additional $630 million annually for road repair. The legislation requires all of the new money to be spent on existing roads.
- The gas tax will increase by 2 cents each year through 2022.
- Drivers are able to recoup the extra money paid in gas in their income tax returns.
- Prior to this bill, South Carolina’s 41,400 miles of roadway have been primarily funded by the state’s 16.74 cent per gallon tax – which is the nation’s lowest.
- The state’s first priority is a $50 million rural road safety program.
- To read the bill in its entirety, click here.
2. New Moped Laws: South Carolina passed a bill requiring moped drivers to either have a valid driver’s license or a separate moped exclusive license. Additionally, it gave police the ability to enforce traffic laws for people traveling on mopeds.
- Prior to this bill, mopeds were a way for non-licensed drivers or those who have had their licenses revoked for various reasons to still get around on the roads. This proved to be dangerous as drivers convicted of crimes such as a DUI were back on the roads and becoming repeat offenders.
- Mopeds in South Carolina have been nicknamed “liquorcycles” as officers could not enforce DUI laws or other violations.
- The new legislation requires that people trying to obtain a moped license do so from the DMV and be at least 15 years old. Starting in November 2018, moped drivers must register their mopeds with the DMV.
- Drivers under the age of 21 are required to wear helmets.
- This legislation comes in response to the growing number of moped fatalities in South Carolina.
- To read the legislation in full, click here.
3. Child Passenger Laws: South Carolina enacted new car seat and booster seat laws to better protect children in the event of a car crash.
- Most prominently, an infant or child under 2 years of age must be properly secured in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system in a rear passenger seat of the vehicle until the child exceeds the height or weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of the restraint system.
- A child at least 2 years of age must be secured in a forward-facing child passenger restraint system with a harness in a rear-passenger seat of the vehicle until the child exceeds the height or weight requirements.
- A child at least 4 years of age must be secured by a belt-positioning booster seat in a rear seat of the vehicle until they can meet the height and age requirements of a seat belt.
- A child at least 8 years of age and at least 57 inches tall may be restrained by an adult safety belt.
- To read the law in full, click here.
Teen Drivers Waiting to get Licenses
It appears that teens today do not share the previous widespread desire to taste freedom by getting a license the day they turn 16 because more and more teens are reportedly waiting to apply for a license until they turn 18.
The amount of high school seniors across the U.S. who have a driver’s license has dropped from 85.3 percent in 1996 to 71.5 percent in 2015. The drop has been the sharpest in the South.
Teens are choosing to wait for varying reasons. Some state that they do not have a car at the age of 16 or the finances to pay for gas and thus, have no use for a license. Others have different modes of transportation that work for them including the school bus, public transportation, ride sharing services (such as Uber and Lyft) and friends with cars. However, the fact that teens are able to bypass the driver’s education courses at the age of 18 is what appeals to them most.
Unfortunately, this new phenomenon is proving to be dangerous to our roads by leading to higher crash rates. Graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs were put into place to protect novice drivers by limiting their exposure to risk initially and gradually phasing in additional driving privileges as they gained experience. These programs seemed to be working as studies show that GDL has significantly reduced the numbers of 16- and 17-year old drivers involved, injured and killed in motor vehicle crashes. By waiting until the age of 18 to get a license, teens are no longer obligated to participate in the GDL and are potentially putting themselves behind the wheel unprepared.
Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for children, teens and young adults in the U.S. Car crashes kill an estimated 5,500 teens each year and teens crash four times more often than adults do.
AAA has worked for nearly two decades to ensure that all states adopt and enforce a comprehensive three-stage GDL system for novice teen drivers. With many teens seeking a license at or after the age of 18, it may be necessary to extend the GDL requirements to an older age group or to any new driver, regardless of age.
The GDL was established in 1996 and has proven to be a beneficial tool for teen drivers. In fact, though the teen population increased from 14.9 million in 1996 (the year the GDL was put into place) to 16.9 million in 2015, the number of drivers in that age group involved in fatal crashes fell by more than half, from 6,021 to 2,898.
However, with fewer and fewer teens participating in the GDL, these numbers are back on the rise. The number of 15-20 year old drivers who died in crashes jumped 10 percent from 2014 to 2015, the first time that number has risen since 2006.
AAA Carolinas encourages all new drivers to enroll in some form of driver education program. AAA Carolinas offers approved driving school including an online course, teen driver course and novice driver course. For more information or to register for a class, please visit our website below.
Vehicle Adjustments Designed for Senior Drivers
Older Driver Safety Awareness week took place from Dec. 4-8. In support of the campaign initiative, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study on senior driving.
The study found that over 90 percent of elderly drivers do not take advantage of devices created to assist them in their drive, such as pedal extensions, seat cushions and steering wheel covers.
This high percentage is especially staggering because seniors aged 65 and older are more than twice as likely than younger drivers to be killed when involved in a crash.
These findings are important because there are nearly 780,000 North Carolinians and over 410,000 South Carolinains aged 65 and older who are licensed drivers.
Many vehicle adaptions available for senior drivers are designed to reduce pain while driving, increase visibility and make motions easier. More than 70 percent of senior drivers report health conditions that impact muscles and bones such as arthritis, hip/knee replacement and joint pains. Steering wheel covers can help lessen the impact of arthritis and improve grip while larger mirrors can help with limited neck mobility.
Some of the most inexpensive devices that can create a positive impact are:
One potential reason many seniors do not take advantage of these features is that they are simply unaware of them. To spread awareness and educate the public, AAA has teamed up with the American Occupational Therapy Association, the American Society on Aging and AARP to develop CarFit.
CarFit was created to help senior drivers better utilize the vehicle features and technologies available to them. The community-based program allows trained professionals to conduct a quick and comprehensive 12-point check of a senior’s personal vehicle and recommend adjustments if needed. Senior drivers can sign up for an event or read about the features online. They are also able to identify in-expensive devices on the Smart Features for Older Drivers tool.
In addition to adopting new vehicle features to improve driving, seniors can also extend their driving years by implementing strategies that reduce their risk on the road. One way is to avoid challenging situations such as driving at night, in bad weather or during rush-hour traffic. Also, seniors who successfuly continue to drive are less likely to engage in potentially distracting behaviors such as talking on a cell phone, texting, eating or grooming in the car.