As overall traffic deaths are on the rise, the Transportation Department claims that 94% of serious traffic crashes are caused by human error. However, this wording is extremely problematic and must be changed, according to National Transportation Safety Board chair, Jennifer Homendy.
In mid-January, Homendy explained to the Associated Press her confusion regarding this explanation that has remained present on the department’s website, especially as President Biden works toward crash-avoiding safety strategies through measures like auto safety feature requirements and road design improvements.
In fact, many safety advocates have been questioning the use of the widely-used statistic for years now, with auto safety groups writing to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about the issue as recently as December. In the letter, these safety advocates referred to the statistic as a sad “excuse” for an increase in roadway crashes (the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration claims that “94% of serious crashes are due to human error” on its website).
“This has to change,” said Homendy of the statistic’s usage. “It’s dangerous,” especially as around 40,000 people die each year in traffic crashes, with many others being injured, although Americans view this as “just a risk people take. She added that “what’s happening is [that] we have a culture that accepts it.”
This kind of verbiage creates a perception of inevitability, and allows drivers to shirk their responsibility for safe driving behaviors, she noted.
“At the same time, it relieves everybody else of [the] responsibility they have for improving safety, including the [Department of Transportation],” she continued. “You can’t simultaneously say we’re focused on a safe system approach–making sure everybody who shares responsibility for road safety is taking action to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries–and have a 94% number out there, which is not accurate.”
Levinson and Stefani’s Ken Levinson is in agreement with Homendy’s claims, emphasizing the fact that all drivers–especially truckers–have a large responsibility to behave as safely as possible any time they’re behind the wheel.
“We have to always be diligent, and companies need to make sure they are properly hiring drivers with adequate and continuous safety training,” Levinson said. “Even though there is indeed human error, that doesn’t forgive the severe consequences or alleviate unsafe trucking companies of their responsibilities. They can’t bury their heads in the sand and say, ‘Whatever happens, happens…” No. We all need to be diligent to make sure lives are protected and safe.”
Additionally, this mindset that crashes are just a part of driving on public roads is something that needs to change, he added.
“It should be safe to drive anywhere, and a crash won’t inevitably happen–we must have the frame of mind that if we’re all diligent and keeping safety in mind, these crashes won’t happen,” he said.
The statistic apparently originates from a 2015 memo released by NHTSA which said that “the critical reason, which is the last event in the crash causal chain, was assigned to the driver in 94% of crashes.” Still, the memo did also note that the critical reason is “not intended to be interpreted as the cause of the crash.”
Additionally, the department, along with state transportation agencies, released the memo on the premise of discovering that 94% of all serious crashes occur “due to human error,” although the departments had all been touting automated vehicle deployment and usage for years. In fact, AVs have been involved in an increasing number of crashes, and in its list of guidelines for safety, released January 18th, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety referred to them as becoming one of the larger threats to road safety right now.
In response to Homendy’s concerns, NHTSA has noted its intent to change its website’s wording in an effort “to address that characterization of the data, as well as provide additional information.” Traffic deaths have been on a sharp incline for the past few years, with NHTSA previously blaming reckless driving behavior and speeding. Now, the agency plans to release a new national strategy outline in regards to methods of preserving more lives on America’s roadways.