Gridlock Guy: Auto safety advancements squandered again in 2021

211123-Atlanta-Traffic on the Connector just South of Downtown ahead of Thanksgiving on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Combined ShapeCaption
211123-Atlanta-Traffic on the Connector just South of Downtown ahead of Thanksgiving on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

American auto death totals increased by 16% in the first half of 2021, compared to 2020′s totals, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Security Council numbers show in a summary compiled by QuoteWizard.

Despite COVID-19 shutdowns that heavily decreased 2020 traffic counts, vehicle fatalities occurred at a higher rate per mile than in 2019. As we have covered in this space numerous times, the increased speeds on the then-uncrowded byways led to harder impacts and more deaths. But overall road speeds decreased in 2021 and traffic total deaths have surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

Georgia fell right in line with the national trend, the NHTSA reported. There were 911 deaths on our state’s roads in the first six months of 2021, 29% more than in 2020 and 24% more than in 2019.

So while the culprits of a newfound space to speed and thirst for recklessness are still viable, other dangers persist outside of the coronavirus’ influence on patterns and habits. These dangers are what keep the battle for safe roads constant.

The state enacted the Hands-Free Georgia Act in July of 2018, essentially banning drivers from holding mobile devices while they drive. This made enforcing the existing texting ban easier and seemed set to temper the increasing demon of distracted driving. And early returns show that it worked as fatalities decreased through 2019.

Meanwhile, as we discussed last week, new automobiles continue to get safer. Late models have better airbags, more driving assistants, warning lights and sounds, cameras, and sensors that all should decrease someone’s margins for error. Newer cars tend to have good infotainment dashboard systems that phones normally can easily pair with to make a nearly seamless hands-free experience.

There are numerous auto insurance discounts given for policyholders who take driving courses and behave properly behind the wheel. And, in general, we have more information and warnings at our fingertips than we ever have.

Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft may be having similar labor issues as other industries, but they still offer fairly timely, effortless ways for inebriated passengers to dispatch ways home, as opposed to driving drunk.

And yet, just as is the case with smoking, dietary habits or even gun safety, people still continue to run the proverbial stop signs and worsen highway safety numbers. As a society, we are absolutely micturating away the highway safety gains that we ourselves have made.

Not long after the hype and awareness around Georgia’s distracted driving rules-revamp, phones started popping back into hands more often. Drivers have since become even worse about trying to hide their palmings of smartphones to make calls and type messages.

Speed demons in 2021 are still having their way with traffic, whether conditions are heavy or not. And when a missile meets a wall with brute force, the fallout is often tragic.

But more insidious than distracted and inebriated driving or reckless speeding and maneuvering is the selfishness that all of us at least somewhat possess

That voice inside that tells someone to drag race or to look down and dial that call or to try and drive after staying through last call is the same murmur that creates a real-life RPG right behind our eyes. That’s the human condition, no matter what we tell others we believe. We are fallen because of our egos — because of our constant prioritization of our own desires.

All that said, imagine how much worse these fatality numbers would be if we didn’t have the same advancements in laws and technology. Then imagine how much better the numbers could be if we could just take a breath to consider the fallout from our driving selfishness.

In this season and Christmas holiday of giving, one gift we could give to strangers around us that doesn’t cost a penny, but potentially provides an invaluable gain, is the gift of putting their safety ahead of our own wants and vices. By doing that, we put all human lives first.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.