ARTICLES

8 WAYS TO CUT TRAFFIC DEATHS

Sidney Katz February 28 1959
ARTICLES

8 WAYS TO CUT TRAFFIC DEATHS

Sidney Katz February 28 1959

8 WAYS TO CUT TRAFFIC DEATHS

ARTICLES

Sidney Katz

In the last year for which there are complete figures, 5½ million Canadian motorists drove 4½ million cars almost 37 billion miles. The accident toll was 81,572 people killed and injured and $75 million worth of property damage. If the past is any guide, these figures will become progressively larger. Traffic destruction is so serious that it now ranks with cancer, mental illness and heart disease as an economic and health problem.

The public seems to accept the mounting traffic death and injury rate as an unavoidable feature of modern life, like hypertension, divorce and high taxes. Yet after questioning leading safety authorities in Canada and the United States, I m convinced that this fatalism is unjustified and that there are at least eight things we can do to cut down traffic fatalities. None of them, in itself, is spectacular. But applied collectively, they are almost certain to achieve results.

1. MAKE DRIVING INSTRUCTION COMPULSORY FOR ALL YOUTHS EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE AND YOUNGER. Giving high-school students instruction in driving lags in Canada because most educators feel that operating a car is not a subject that should be placed on the curriculum. They believe that it’s a skill which can most appropriately be taught elsewhere.

Many safety authorities, on the other hand, feel the situation has become so critical that driving should be made a compulsory high-school subject. This conclusion is based on insurance figures which show that the 16-21 age group has an accident rate twice as high as the rest of the population. E. K. MacKay, of the Ontario Safety League, says, “Teen-agers have eleven times as many accidents per miles driven as the safest group of drivers—the 45-50-year-olds.” The record of young drivers is growing worse while the record of other age groups improves.

Yet young people can become the best drivers on the road if they are given a wellplanned course in driving. After a survey which compared trained and untrained school-age drivers in fifteen states and thirteen cities, the National Education Association, Washington, concluded that “the trained driver shows thirtyto fiftypercent better driving performance” as well as a dramatic decrease in accidents and traffic violations. In Manitoba, trained high-school drivers had an accident rate one eighth that of the average motorist in the province. Training has been so effective in reducing accidents that the Allstate Insurance Company, which operates in Canada and the United States, offers a premium discount of fifteen percent to all young people who graduate from an approved high-school driver education course. The advantages of driving instruction are so conclusive that eleven thousand high schools in the U. S. are now training a million students each year.

Compulsory driving instruction is most advanced in Michigan, where, under the Driver Education Law, no person under eighteen can be licensed unless he has had an approved course in driver education. The course is available to all high-school students without charge. The cost of instruction, per pupil, varies between $25 and $55. The state contributes up to $25 per student and the local school board pays the balance. The course consists of thirty hours of classroom instruction plus six hours of behind-the-wheel training. Dual-control practice cars are usually loaned to the schools by local auto dealers, who in turn are partially subsidized by car manufacturers. The instructors are certified teachers who have received forty hours of drilling in how to teach driving. To emphasize the importance of the driving course, students who complete it are given curriculum credits. By following this progress, it is hoped that, in time, all Michigan drivers will be trained.

’We must stop glumly watching the traffic toll soar. Scientific methods can improve our safety record. Here, after consulting many experts, a Maclean’s editor lists

Continued on next page

Eighty to ninety percent of all traffic accidents are due to driver misbehaviorwould a national "get-tough" policy really work?

2. REGULATE THE COMMERCIAL DRIVING SCHOOLS. Many lives would be saved if adults, as well as teen-agers, were required to take adequate driving courses before being allowed to get behind a wheel. The average licensed driver performs poorly. After a close look at 10,000 motorists, the American Automobile Association concluded that the driver who covers 10,000 miles per year commits about 25,000 violations annually. This includes such minor infractions as turning without signaling, momentarily exceeding the speed limit and crossing to the left of the centre of the road. Safety experts regard these transgressions as significant because there’s a direct relationship between violations and accidents.

In Germany, an applicant for a driver’s license must produce a certificate of graduation from an approved driving school before he can try the test. Nearly all commercial transport firms in North America require their drivers to take intensive training regardless of how much driving experience they've had—a procedure that helps account for the low accident rate of professional truck drivers. In Michigan, several hundred motorists, who for two years had been chronic violators frequently involved in accidents, were required to take driving-improvement training. During the following two years, 55 percent had violationand accident-free records.

These facts point to the advantages of driving training for adults. But where are they to obtain it? At present, driving instruction is available from hundreds of commercial driving schools. Unfortunately, many of these schools don't contribute as much to traffic safety as they could. Most only give eight to twelve hours of driving practice because the customers are anxious to try for their driver’s license with as little expense as possible. Few driving schools give classroom instruction although thirty hours of lectures are required to impress good driving atti-

tudes on a new driver. But, as one driving-sch operator pointed out, "Who’s going to pay listen to somebody talk at them for thi hours?” Many driving-school instructors are i qualified. Some of them are people marking ti between other jobs.

One reason why many driving schools are such low calibre is that they are not adéquat supervised or regulated. Some local police i partments lay down certain requirements I they’re not tough enough. Even these can evaded by the driving school locating outs the city limits.

According to W. Arch Bryce, general ma ger of the Canadian Highway Safety Conferen Ottawa, "Commercial driving schools should strictly supervised and regulated by provine governments.” Model legislation already exi in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey a California.

The laws of those states set forth certain qu; fications for the instructors, the minimum nu her of hours of classroom instruction and hind-the-wheel instruction required and a regu inspection procedure for the training vehicl If such legislation were to be introduced by I various provinces, our driving schools would graduating a much higher proportion of s, drivers.

3. WEED OUT THE “SICK DRIVERS” I FORE THEY KILL. There’s a growing mass evidence to indicate that some motorists sho be banished either temporarily or permaner from our streets and highways. Safety expc refer to them as “sick drivers” and the total accidents they cause is out of all proportion their numbers. In Connecticut, a six-year sti revealed that four percent of the licensed driv were responsible for thirty-six percent of accidents. Manitoba's 1957 accident statis support a similar conclusion. The Commissio of Motor Vehicles

continued on page 53

8 ways to cut traffic deaths continued from page 14

“The courts should be a force for safety; most of them accomplish the opposite“

recently pointed out that individuals classified as “problem and dangerous drivers” were forty times as likely to become involved in an accident in the course of a year as the driver with no previous record.

Identifying and weeding out the “sick driver” would be a major step in traffic safety. Advances in the psychological sciences make it possible to recognize him. The sick driver usually has one or more of the following characteristics: low mentality, egocentricity, aggressiveness, anti-social attitudes and social irresponsibility.

For several years, chronic traffic violators in Detroit have been referred to a psychiatric clinic attached to the municipal court for careful examination. One study of 812 offenders included: 244 feebleminded or with borderline or inferior intelligence; 16 psychotic; 22 psychoneurotic; 101 emotionally unstable personalities; 18 with convulsive disorders and sever, with senile deterioration. Comparing these 812 traffic violators with a similar number of convicted criminals in Detroit, a higher proportion of the poor drivers suffered from mental deficiency, epilepsy, organic brain disease and chronic alcoholism.

After these cases are thoroughly studied. the Detroit clinic recommends a course of action. In hopeless cases, the driver’s license may be revoked for life. In other instances, licenses are temporarily suspended and rehabilitation is attempted. After the offender completes the prescribed course of medical, psychiatric or driver-training treatment, he is re-examined. If he is judged to be a good risk, he is allowed to drive again.

Similar clinics in New Jersey and Chicago have confirmed the Detroit finding that the persistent traffic violator “is a different and distinct kind of animal.” That is why the Conference on the Medical Aspects of Traffic Accidents, after their Montreal meeting in 1955. recommended that personality clinics be set up across Canada to examine and prescribe for chronic offenders.

4. REFORM THE TRAFFIC COURTS.

Safety authorities are in general agreement that one of the weakest links in the traffic-improvement program is the traffic court. Traffic courts should be one of the greatest forces promoting safety: in effect, most of them accomplish the opposite.

There are many reasons why this is so. Most traffic courts are burdened with so many cases that they dispense “cafeteria justice.” Violators are paraded before the magistrate and are tried as quickly as possible. Court officials are wearied by the heavy volume of work. Many of them have little formal training in accident-prevention work and don't understand the significance of various violations. For example, in an Ontario court, a young man was fined $40 for speeding at 105 mph on a busy highway. Motorists who fail to keep to the right of the centre line or don’t yield the right of way are usually fined a few dollars. Yet. if statistics are a reliable guide, these violations should be treated with the utmost seriousness. Speeding, according to the National Safety Council, Chicago, is a factor in about one third of all accidents; failing to keep to the right of the centre line ten percent; fail-

ing to yield the right of way. eight percent.

After studying hundreds of traffic courts in action. Municipal Judge Sherman G. Finesilver of Denver, Colo., pleads for “a new philosophy in our

traffic courts.” The aim should be to make the court experience remedial, not punitive. "If we return an angry driver to the road, where are we?” he asks. "We’ve missed a golden opportunity to improve his driving behavior.” Accord-

ing to Finesilver. the court should assume responsibility for re-educating him as a driver. An effective way of accomplishing this is to establish a “traffic violators’ school,” attached to the court. About a hundred and fifty American

cities have already established such schools. Violators are compelled to attend six weekly sessions, each about two hours long.

Court traffic schools have already demonstrated their effectiveness. A year after the traffic school in Oakland, Calif., was established, the number of auto deaths dropped from forty-seven to twenty-six. In Louisville, Kentucky, fewer than one percent of the twelve thousand graduates of the traffic school reappeared in court during the following year. Kitchener, an Ontario community of sixty thousand, is one of the few Canadian centres with a violators’ school. This is probably one of the reasons it has had a low accident rate in recent years.

5. STOP PAMPERING THE VIOLATOR. If leniency with the traffic violator pays off at times, then so does toughness. The experiences of Governor Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut are revealing.

Ribicoff was appalled by the number of traffic deaths in his state in December 1955. “Forty-four people had started out for a Christmas party or family reunion and ended up in the morgue,” he says. Ribicoff called in the state commissioner of police and asked him what was the most frequent cause of accidents. “Speed,” was the reply. He then asked how people could be made to slow down. The commissioner of police explained

that suspending a driver’s license was

the greatest deterrent. “People prefer to pay a fine or even go to jail rather than lose the privilege of driving.”

This discussion led to a new set of penalties on Connecticut’s highways, beginning in January 1956. Anyone convicted of speeding would lose his license for thirty days; for the second conviction, ninety days; for the third conviction, indefinitely. As far as enforcement

was concerned, Ribicoff repeatedly

warned the public there would be no fixing of speeding tickets. “My advisers told me I was committing political suicide,” he says.

After the first few months, it became apparent that Ribicoff meant what he had said. *One of my closest friends lost his license, and his wife had to drive him to work for a month,” he says. “This man hasn’t spoken to me since.” During 1955, the Motor Vehicles Branch of Connecticut had suspended a total of 378 licenses for speeding. In 1956, the first year of the get-tough policy, this figure skyrocketed to almost 10,000 suspensions. A lot of complaints and criticism came from disgruntled motorists. But as the months wore on, letters, phone calls and newspaper editorials reflected growing support for the get-tough policy. Last November, Ribicoff was reelected with the biggest majority he had ever enjoyed.

The get-tough policy didn't discourage votes because it had saved lives. In 1955, before it was introduced, there were 324 highway deaths in Connecticut. In 1956, the number dropped to 288. At the end of 1958, it was 251 although the number of cars in Connecticut is steadily increasing. Governor Ribicoff agrees with safety authorities that a well-rounded program promoting traffic safety should include a lot more than tough enforcement. "But as long as lives are being saved.” he says, "the war against speeders will continue.”

6. INTRODUCE THE POINT SYSTEM. The point system has been described by Dr. Herbert J. Stack, of New York University, as "one of the strongest forces known to improve driver behavior.” It eliminates the necessity of

dealing with the problem driver on a hit-and-run basis. The point system is now in use in tw'enty-two American states and four Canadian provinces— Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The Ontario plan, just begun on a provisional basis, is fairly typical:

Every moving violation committed by a motorist carries with it a penalty of a certain number of points. ' For example, there are two points for making an illegal turn, five points for exceeding the speed limit by thirty miles per hour, nine points for failing to remain at the scene of an accident, twelve points for drunken driving. Records are kept for two-year periods, starting with the day the motorist receives his first penalty. When the motorist accumulates a total of six points, he is sent an advisory or warning letter. At nine points, he is called in for an interview. At twelve points, his driving license is suspended for at least three months.

The point system has been saving lives in Manitoba since the year it was introduced—1951. Despite a forty-fivepercent increase in the number of motor

vehicles, the number of traffic deaths in the Winnipeg and Brandon areas (where more than half of Manitoba's population lives) has remained stationary. The auto death rate in Manitoba stands at 13.1 fatalities per 100,000 population, the lowest in the west (other provinces: Alberta, 33.7; British Columbia, 21; Saskatchewan, 16.7). In 1957, automobile-insurance rates jumped throughout Canada, in some places by as much as twenty-two percent. In Manitoba, because of the low accident rate, insurance premiums inched up a mere 2.4%.

7. CONDUCT BETTER RESEARCH TO DISCOVER THE REAL CAUSES OF ACCIDENTS. There are still many unknown areas in the subject of traffic safety. Take the matter of the “unexplained accident.” Each year, hundreds of serious accidents occur for no apparent reason. Careful research might supply the explanation, and, in the process, save thousands of lives in the future.

A carbon - monoxide study by the California State Patrol is a case in point. The patrol stopped 1,100 vehicles, chosen at random, and discovered that "two percent of the cars tested had a dangerously high concentration of carbon monoxide due to faulty mufflers, manifolds or exhaust pipes.” The report suggests that "many unexplained highway accidents are due to drivers unknowingly breathing dangerous amounts of this gas,” which causes weakness, dizziness and finally loss of consciousness.

Research in motor construction has given us many safety features but there’s

still much to be done. For instance, we should be aiming for better vision for the driver and economical no-glare headlights to reduce night accidents. The possible contribution of color to safety should be investigated: an unofficial report from the U. S. Post Office states that their vehicles have been involved in fewer accidents since the traditional dark-green paint jobs were replaced with the bright, visible red, white and blue.

We know that about eighty or ninety percent of all accidents are due to “driver misbehavior” but the details have yet to be filled in. Some of the results may be surprising. Harvard University has recently started to investigate “the total situation" in which fatal accidents occur. Teams of psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians and traffic engineers rush to the scene of every fatal mishap in the Cambridge, Mass., area to gather data. Survivors of the crash and members of the victim's family are interviewed to learn something about his personality and the emotional climate in which he lived during the last hours of his life. Autopsies are performed on the drivers to detect hidden brain or heart injuries. Early findings based upon about fifty accidents suggest that we may have to revise drastically our thinking about highway deaths: four of the cases turned out to be suicides; one was probably a homicide. Is the traffic-death situation grossly exaggerated because the automobile has become a socially acceptable method of self-destruction?

We now knou quite a bit about the personality differences between the accident-free and accident-prone motorist. But we have yet to capitalize on this knowledge by devising an effective, convenient technique to help the licensing authorities weed out the potentially dangerous driver. There are still large gaps in our information about the relationship between various illnesses and disabilities and accidents. For instance, how do the traffic safety records of cardiac patients compare with those of healthy individuals?

Research is needed to point up the inadequacies of our system of road-testing applicants for a driver’s license. Every applicant will be taking his car out in the rain or on a four-lane highway or on an expressway. Does the driving inspector test him under these conditions? Arc applicants advised of the peculiarities and weaknesses revealed by their tests? For example, a man with an abnormally fast reaction time is able to jam on his brakes much faster than the motorist behind him. This might cause an accident some day if the driver does not compensate for it. At the International Skid Convention held recently at the University of Virginia it was reported that skidding is an important factor in four out of five accidents on wet roads, in one out of five accidents on dry roads. Yet how many new drivers—or experienced ones—can sense and evaluate an impending skid and know how to handle the situation?

We should devote more study to traffic control as well as to the driver. If every community in Canada were to apply the proven techniques of traffic engineering, thousands of injuries and deaths could be avoided each year. Such a program needn't cost a lot of money. One-way streets, stop signs, traffic signals and a dozen other techniques and devices, properly utilized, help keep motorists out of trouble. But in order to enjoy the blessings of traffic engineering, a certain amount of research has to go on at the community level, particularly the keeping of detailed records of the location and nature of all accidents. “Unfor-

tunately,” says Robert Allen, chief traffic-safety engineer of the Association of Casualty and Surety Companies, New York, who has visited many communities in Canada and the United States, “only about one out of every twentyfive centres keeps accident records accurate enough for the traffic engineer to act on.”

Halifax is one Canadian city which has realized the value of research and traffic engineering. In 1955, Allen was invited there to study the local traffic problem. During that year there were 2,644 accidents. As a result of his recommendations, certain changes were made in the control and regulation of traffic. By 1957, despite an increased flow of traffic, the volume of accidents was reduced by twenty-eight percent. The record might have been even better had Halifax followed Allen’s advice and employed a resident traffic engineer. “Every city of 100,000 people needs at least one full-time traffic engineer,” says Allen. Unfortunately, only seven Canadian communities today meet this important safety requirement.

8. MAKE ALL TRAFFIC - SAFETY AGENCIES WORK TOGETHER. Safety has become the business of many agencies—government departments, police departments, courts, schools, industries and several community organizations. All these groups must work together to avoid overlapping, “underlapping.” duplication and, ultimately, public confusion. At present, according to Arch Bryce of the Canadian Highway Safety Conference, “We have no vigorous, well co-ordinated program for highway safety in Canada.” Sometimes a local police department or a magistrate decides to crack down on a certain type of offense without preparing the public by enlisting the aid of safety groups and the mass media. The effort usually fails. Some groups persist in conducting their own independent campaigns, “more interested in getting publicity and headlines than saving lives,” says Bryce.

A lion's share of safety promotion now rests on the shoulders of voluntary organizations. These groups lack adequate resources. The Canadian Highway Safety Conference, for example, has only a handful of men and an annual budget of sixty thousand dollars—mostly contributed by industry—to operate on a national basis. The Quebec Safety League, with a budget of forty-five thousand dollars and the equivalent of a full-time staff of three, attempts to promote traffic, home, industrial and water safety throughout that province.

Safety groups are having trouble attracting active members. Many of the 230 local “safety councils” in Canada are almost inert. “Canadians think that safety is the other person's business,” says Paul Lebœuf of the Quebec Safety League. According to Arch Bryce, “Some people get interested in safety because they want to run for office or get established in the insurance business. When they've reached their goal, they drop safety like a hot potato.”

Whether Canada’s annual death - and -injury traffic toll of 81,572 goes up or down depends largely on the support given to the safety movement by the public. One outstanding authority, Maxwell Halsey, of the Michigan State Safety Commission, feels that Canadians should press their provincial governments to assume responsibility for co-ordinating safety activity. “They're the logical authority,” he says. “It won't be an easy job getting everyone to make their maximum contribution but then, there’s no magic formula, no easy road to traffic safety.”