Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Deaths on US highways down ever so slightly in 2006

According to a press release issued by the US Department of Transportation last Friday, Secretary Mary E. Peters said that traffic deaths on U.S. roads were down slightly in 2006 according to preliminary figures, but warned that far too many lives continue to be lost.

While the number of road deaths is projected to have declined slightly nationwide from 43,443 in 2005 to 43,300 in 2006, “even one death is too many,” Secretary Peters said. Also, more than half of the
occupants in passenger vehicles who were killed were not wearing their seat belts.

“Bad things happen when people don’t buckle up, and no one is immune from the damage and devastation that comes from not wearing a seat belt,” Secretary Peters said. She also praised New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine for his efforts to educate people about the need to buckle up, noting that “perhaps his pictures and his words about his crash will inspire people to buckle up every time they get in the car, no excuses.”

Crash-related injuries dropped 6 percent from 2.70 million in 2005 to 2.54 million in 2006, a rather remarkable decline. The preliminary figures also show that between 2005 and 2006, overall alcohol-related fatalities increased 2.4 percent from 17,525 to 17,941, continuing a worrisome trend in recent years as progress against alcohol-related fatal crashes has stalled. In better news, pedestrian deaths dropped slightly, from 4881 to 4768, and fatalities from large truck crashes dropped from 5212 to 5018, a 3.7 percent decline.

Unfortunately, motorcylist deaths increased for the ninth straight year, up 5.4 percent last year and rising a staggering 125 percent from a 3-decade low of
2056 in 1997 to 4798 in 2006. States really have to quit knuckling under to the motorcyclist lobby that proclaims, "let those who ride decide" to wear helmets. Helmet use must be made mandatory across the US. Slogans and calling for "education" won't get the job done.

The press release notes that the final 2006 report, pending completion of data collection and analysis, will be available in late summer.

We've still got a long, long way to go in getting the fatality count down.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Corzine crash...the aftermath

"I'm New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, and I should be dead," begins a new public service ad promoting seat belt use released ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. The governor was critically injured last month when his state trooper-driven SUV was clipped by a pickup truck on the Garden State Parkway. His SUV was traveling 91 mph in a 65 mph zone. Corzine wasn't wearing a seat belt and sustained fractures of his leg, collar bone, sternum, and 11 ribs. The trooper driving the SUV was wearing his belt and had minor injuries.

In the ad, Corzine states that he lost more than half of his blood, spent eight days in intensive care, and had to use a ventilator. He continues, "it took a remarkable team of doctors and a series of miracles to save my life when all I needed was a seat belt...I have to live with my mistake. You don't. Buckle up."

On your way home from Memorial Day activities today, remember his words. And control your speed. These can save your life!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

They don't build them like this anymore! #1

This postwar Dodge sedan was spotted in front of an old store near Nellysford, Virginia on Mother's Day. Notice the words "Fluid Drive" on the bumper. The reference is to a gussied-up manual transmission with supposedly no direct metal-to-metal contact between the engine and transmission. There are still three pedals in front of the driver's seat -- gas, brakes, and clutch. The green appears to be the original color, but evidently someone is restoring the car and repainting it brown.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Shortcut through the Chuska Mountains, Arizona

When my wife and I were planning our road trip through the American Southwest a couple of months ago, I noticed an apparent shortcut through the Chuska Mountains in the Navajo Nation of northeast Arizona. Unfortunately, the 2007 atlas we were using showed the road, State Route 13, as unpaved. Remembering the fate of the family who took a wrong turn in Oregon a few months back with fatal consequences for the father, I was reluctant about using this road, especially after I checked Google Earth. This showed the road rising to elevations of around 8500 feet and very twisty.

Still, if the road was usable, it would cut off many miles from our journey from Canyon de Chelly National Monument over to northwest New Mexico and then southeast to Chaco Culture National Historic Park. (Interestingly Chaco Canyon lies due east of Canyon de Chelly, but there are no roads connecting them directly.)

While stopping in the Canyon de Chelly visitor center (near the town of Chinle) on our second day at the park, I asked one of the park rangers about this road and showed her the map. She said the road had been paved about two years before. That was music to my ears!

After we toured the northern leg of the park, we continued on State Route 64 to the small town of Tsaile. There, we got a little something to eat at a convenience store. I had become uncertain at that point if I had inquired about the correct road at the visitor center, so I asked the clerk at the store about this shortcut. He also assured me it was paved.

We then headed north on State Route 12 until we got to the turnoff for Route 13 at the small town of Lukachukai (the name sounds strangely Russian, but it really must be Native American). The first photo shows the view northeast on the outskirts of the town. As we started climbing into the Chuska Mountains (also sounds Russian), we came to a sign that said "road closed ahead." Oh no! Well, there was another car in front of us that had turned into the driveway of a Native American family that was getting ready to leave their home by car. I figured I may as well ask them also about the status of the road. They were very friendly and informed me that they had come through the mountains just two days before, and that of course the road was open. They mentioned that snow had narrowed parts of the road to one lane, but that it was definitely passable.

So we started climbing the twisty road with the natural orange-colored arch formations off to one side, and we encountered Ponderosa pine forests replacing the desert and snow in the forests and sure enough, on the road as we reached higher elevations. The Native American family was right though in that one lane was always dry and completely usable. Near the summit, there was a wayside with a picnic table, so we decided to stop. When we got out and reached the table, we saw the beautiful view spread out before us (last photo). We could see the Four Corners area, so 4 states were visible at one time. Of course, in the foreground was Arizona, while straight ahead with the "volcanic necks" visible was New Mexico. To our left in the distance was Utah and straight ahead on the horizon were the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.

The most famous of the volcanic necks is Shiprock, the largest one visible in the photo and so named because it resembles a 3-masted sailing ship. These volcanic necks are the remnants of upwelling lava from the cores of active volcanoes in prehistoric times. The solidified hard black lava is much more more resistant to the forces of erosion, so long after the volcanic cone has been eroded away, the hard lava "neck" remains, along with long "walls" of hardened lava radiating out from the neck.

This was such a treat, and I'm glad I persisted in asking about this road. It does show that it pays to inquire locally about any shortcut.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Sudden death on the highway…so close to my home

These roadside memorials commemorate six deaths in four crashes that occurred very near my home. The first three memorials pictured stand on the side or median of a major 4-lane US highway within little more than a two-mile stretch. The last memorial is on a busy 2-lane state highway.

The one with the triple fatalities occurred on June 11, 1998. A 19-year-old University of Virginia student driving a Jeep Cherokee southbound in the right lane of the 4-lane highway was allegedly distracted by a bee that flew inside her vehicle. She swerved to the left just as a Chevy Monte Carlo was starting to pass her in the left lane.

Lois Deane, 49, driving the Monte Carlo, swerved to her left to avoid the Jeep, lost control in the median, rolled the car over and tumbled upside down into the oncoming lanes, where her car was hit by a Nissan Altima. Unfortunately, Lois had her granddaughters Renae and Cheyanne in the car, ages 10 and 4, who were completely unrestrained, ejected, and killed. Lois also was unbelted and killed. As I recall, there were two women in the Altima who were not seriously injured.

I saw photos of the Monte Carlo. The roof was crushed somewhat in the front, but the rear part of the roof was okay. There is no doubt in my mind that if the children had been properly restrained in the back seat, they would have survived, probably without serious injuries. I can't say for sure about Lois.

Ginger McCain, an employee of the University of Virginia School of Nursing, was killed on September 19, 2005. Her car was also southbound on this road and was nudged in the right rear by a Ford Focus that had edged out of an intersection from a stop sign. This occurred in heavy morning commuter traffic, and the Focus driver was probably trying to get moving into the fast-flowing traffic stream. Unfortunately, the Focus driver misjudged and Ginger’s Mitsubishi coupe was pushed off course so that her car went diagonally off the right side of the road at high speed directly into a large tree. I understand Ginger was wearing her seat belt, but the crash was too severe, and the car may not have had an airbag. However, her young daughter in a child seat in the rear was largely unharmed as I recall. Now, there is a traffic light at this intersection and a guardrail separates the roadway from the tree.

I do not know the circumstances behind Grace Kudro’s death, except that it occurred on September 19, 2006, exactly one year after that of Ginger McCain. The placement of the memorial suggests she was also southbound and went off the left edge of the highway and struck a tree in the median. She was only 23 years old and left behind two young daughters.

Travis Fitzgerald was 30 at the time of his death, which occurred on November 26, 2004, the day after Thanksgiving. He evidently died on a twisty two-lane road that carries a lot of commuter traffic. At night, deer can be commonly seen crossing the road, especially in the fall. The section on which he died has blind curves with advisory speeds of 35 mph, but hardly anyone slows down that much. The road itself until about a year ago had a posted speed limit of 55 mph (now 45 mph).

These were all tragic deaths. What can we learn from them? Always be alert, be cautious at busy intersections and blind curves, don’t swerve suddenly if you can help it, and above all, always wear your seat belts and make sure your child passengers are properly restrained.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The human costs of car crashes

All too often, car crashes that kill or injure are regarded with a shrug by too many Americans. We regard crashes as the "cost" of motor vehicle travel or even blame victims for their deaths. In 2005, a total of 43,443 lives were lost on US highways, an average of 119 a day. I don't think we'd tolerate such a toll in any other area, such as plane crashes, food poisoning or tainting, US combat deaths in Iraq, or mass shootings like the horrible incident last month at Virginia Tech. Yet day after day, the killing continues on our highways, with none of the presidential campaigns, for example, even making the slightest mention of this issue. Think of it: something like school prayer gets more lip service -- the irony is that any school student can say a prayer in his/her mind at any time!

In the face of this apathy, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has issued a special issue of its newsletter Status Report that focuses on a single day in 2005: Tuesday, June 7, on which the "average" daily number of Americans perished for that year -- 119. The very real human tragedies behind the number are highlighted, with 60 of the victims named and 15 of their personal stories told.

As Adrian Lund, president of the Institute, puts it ("119 deaths in context"):

Researchers and advocates often measure highway safety progress in terms of deaths per population or mile driven, which have declined over decades. But progress has slowed in recent years. Total deaths have increased since a low of 39,250 in 1992.

This issue of Status Report reminds us of the real lives and tragedies behind the statistics. They remind us that, despite progress, crash deaths and injuries still are occurring in predictable ways. They aren't random or inevitable, and we aren't helpless to prevent them.

We should be encouraged by our past successes. Vehicles are more crashworthy than they used to be, and they're being equipped with technologies to prevent crashes in the first place. Laws addressing alcohol-impaired driving and other risky behavior have made a big difference, and roads are designed to be more forgiving when drivers make mistakes.

We need to apply this knowledge more widely. We need to evaluate new vehicle and road technologies that can help with traffic law enforcement. We need to do these things because we should do all that we're able to prevent crash deaths — and because we can.

You can read the entire issue by clicking on the link below.

IIHS Status Report special issue.

Some things that are very clear from these tragic stories include the following:

1. Always wear your seat belts, and make sure your fellow passengers do as well.

2. Always secure your children in age-appropriate child restraints and place them in rear seats.

3. Alcohol and driving are a deadly combination.

4. Control your speed. No matter what the enthusiast media state about speeding and speed limits, it's clear that excessive speed and recklessness lead all too often to death and injury. Today's cars may be more crashworthy, but their ability to protect their occupants is lost if impact speeds are equivalent to hitting a solid barrier at 45-50 mph.

5. Put down that cell phone and pay attention to your surroundings, especially the road in front of you.

6. Think twice about taking that marathon all-night drive to Florida after working a full shift. There's a reason truckers are restricted by law (too often flouted) from driving for too many hours.

7. Consider parking that motorcycle, but if you insist on using one, make sure you wear a helmet.

8. Bicyclists and pedestrians are no match for a couple of tons of steel -- watch for them and respect their space.

9. If you have teenage children drivers, make sure they follow the rules of the road and don't be hesitant about revoking their driving privileges at the first sign of problems. No parent should have to bury a child needlessly.

10. Remember that car crashes are not "accidents," as if they are random, unpredictable, or "acts of God." As Anne McCartt, senior vice president of the Institute puts it, "... if you look closely at the deaths on June 7, you see that none of the people in these stories had to die. We know how to prevent most crash deaths. We just don't always apply what we know."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


I was driving home from work yesterday on a gorgeous spring day. I glanced up through the open sunroof of my 2004 Camry and noticed jet contrails.

That reminded me of our recent trip to the American Southwest with its bright blue skies and contrails everywhere. I never really thought of Arizona or New Mexico as "flyover country" in the usual sense of the word, but clearly there is a lot of air travel to and from the west coast of this country and beyond.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

GM now in the back seat?

Posted by Picasafrom Charlottesville, VA Daily Progress, 4/29/07 (by Kirk)