The two biggest challenges facing the international traffic safety community are crowded roads and driver distraction.
When the two issues converge, as is the case in many urban North American cities, the significance is magnified.
The number of vehicles in North America is staggering; in fact there are more vehicles registered than there are people. In the U.S. there are nearly three vehicles for every citizen.
When you consider that almost one quarter of the population cannot or does not drive; the issue becomes more obvious. We are lucky in that we have plenty of space, relative to Europe and Asia, on which to build roads — if the funds were available.
We are unlucky in the sense that today’s motor vehicle is built to much higher standards than at any time in history — lasting and running longer — which is where the numbers come from.
High school parking lots of today are larger than shopping mall lots of 25 years ago.
With more vehicles sharing the same space, the incident of crashes and conflict become paramount. Looked at your insurance bill lately?
The second major worry for traffic safety folks is driver distraction. More people spending more time in more vehicles is not only a problem from a traffic point, but the fact many of them are multi-tasking means many are using their vehicles for commuting purposes, and only occasionally paying attention to the task of driving.
Adding to the issue is the fact the driver can and often does talk on the phone, monitor the stock market, watch the infotainment screen, and use a personal digital assistant on the way to or from work.
A lot of attention has been focused on cell phones — but reams of research has shown this to be only the issue that brought attention to a problem — driver distraction. Whether changing stations or songs, checking hair or makeup in the mirror or juggling that hot cup of coffee, many motorists are not paying attention.
From the design of the vehicles to that of the roads on which they travel, we are in a new age literally and figuratively.
The safety experts, concerned about growing carnage on roads that can’t be made much safer, hope for regulations to force drivers to pay attention.
Vehicle manufacturers, in one of the most competitive industries on earth, strive to meet, if not anticipate the growing trend for time-saving or entertaining consumer devices.
Consumers? All too many buy the toys, drive with their mind on something else and ask the traffic safety experts to build road systems that keep them away from other motorists.
We can expect growing attention to the issue of driver distraction, especially when it results in highly publicized death or injury.
New cruise and distance-control devices, automatically keep vehicles apart by reducing throttle input or applying the brakes.
The next step will be autonomous driving and in high volume/concentrated population areas, roadways containing sensors and devices to literally operate the vehicle for us — just like the commuter trains people go to such lengths to avoid.