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Semi avoids a major collision during a white out on M-6 south of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Root Insurance study reveals America’s blind spot behind the wheel



The Root Insurance report found that Gen Z drivers (18-24-year-olds) used their mobile devices while driving 20 times per 100 miles driven. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Root Insurance, an insurance company that discounts insurance rates for drivers who avoid using their phones behind the wheel, has launched the results of its second annual distracted driving study, conducted online by Wakefield Research.

The study reveals that nearly half of drivers surveyed (47%) cite distracted driving on the road as their top concern when driving, presenting a national issue for road safety.

“Using a mobile device while driving has become second nature. As Root’s study confirms, too many drivers don’t think twice about this behavior, even when they should,” said Root Insurance’s Director of Data Science for Telematics Joe Plattenburg. “The number of distractions are increasing, and so is the need for companies and drivers to find new ways to encourage focused driving.”

Drivers know using their phone while driving is wrong but still do it anyway, the survey revealed. Drivers admit to spending an average of 13 minutes a day — or 91 minutes a week — using their devices while driving. Additionally, nearly 2 in 5 drivers (38%) who check their mobile devices while driving do not even put their phones down when they see law enforcement.

Almost all drivers (99%) point to phones as being among the top three distractions while driving. Distractions that are most likely to turn their attention away from the road and to their phone include:

  • Group chats, such as a text or an email chain with multiple people (52%)
  • Social media, such as memes or newsfeed (33%)
  • Streaming video, such as a show or movie trailer (18%)

Despite their own behavior, those surveyed remain intolerant of distracted driving by others.

An overwhelming majority of drivers (89%) would give an Uber/Lyft driver a bad rating for texting while driving, while 39% admit they’ve done that themselves. Meanwhile, nearly all drivers (90%) believe they are better behind the wheel than Uber/Lyft drivers.

Unrelated to mobile phone use, the study also found other unsafe activities are taking place on U.S. roads and highways. Nearly three in 10 drivers (29%) don’t even keep their hands on the wheel, admitting they have steered with a different body part, such as a knee or chin.

Additional activities include:

  • Grooming while driving, doing their hair/makeup or shaving (18%)
  • Playing with a pet (13%)
  • Changing clothes (12%)

This study follows Root’s 2019 Focused Driving Report, released earlier this month to better understand the severity of distracted driving. Based on real behavioral data, the report found that Gen Z drivers (18-24-year-olds) used their mobile devices while driving 20 times per 100 miles driven. Additionally, the report reveals the most and least focused drivers by state, city, and car make.

“Root’s mission is to help drivers make better decisions on the road, and the industry standard fear tactics are clearly not working,” said Root Co-Founder and CEO Alex Timm. “We’ve heard from policyholders that when we incentivize our drivers with a lower insurance rate, they are more motivated to stay focused on the roads and not their mobile devices.”

Last year Root launched its Focused Driving Discount, a new pricing incentive to curb distracted driving. With their model, drivers who avoid mobile phone use while driving can save up to an additional 10 percent on their insurance quote.



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West Virginia to start new measure designed to make section of I-77 safer



Checking equipment on tractor-trailers is one strategy for making a dangerous section of Interstate 77 in West Virginia safer to travel. (Courtesy: WEST VIRGINIA DOT)

PRINCETON, W.Va. — West Virginia officials say they hope some new measures will make a dangerous section of Interstate 77 safer to travel.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports West Virginia Parkways Authority said it would lower the speed limit from 70 to 60 by the end of April, increase patrols and check tractor-trailers’ equipment more often.

Parkway General Manager Greg Barr made the comments Monday during a ceremony in which a bridge was dedicated to two Parkways to the late Nathan Andrew Thompson of Princeton and his nephew, 21-year-old Richard Nathaniel Lambert of Kegley. Both men, who were West Virginia Parkways employees, lost their lives as a result of an August 16, 2018, crash near mile marker 23.

A third Parkways Authority employee, Ethan Kestner, 19, of Princeton survived the crash. He has been recovering from his injuries, Barr said.

There have been several fatal crashes between mile marker 20 and mile marker 27, a section of Interstate 77 that goes down Flat Top Mountain into Mercer County. Barr said that members of the Princeton Rescue and families of the people who lost their lives to crashes have talked to the West Virginia Parkways Authority about ways to make the highway safer.

During the authority’s last board meeting, its members looked at a speed study that was done and put forward a motion to lower the speed limit. The speed limit between mile marker 20 and mile marker 27 will be lowered from 70 mph to 60 mph, Barr said. This mandatory speed limit goes into effect by the end of April.

A more immediate measure is to make a greater effort to increase State Police patrols to enforce the speed limits, Barr stated. A second measure has been to hire an additional state Public Service Commission officer – there were previously just two – to review and check the equipment on tractor-trailers. More reflective warning signs called chevrons will be placed at the bottom of Flat Top Mountain near the 20 mile marker to give truck drivers more advanced notice to slow down for the curves they are approaching.

Barr said the authority is also looking at installing barriers in the highway’s median.

Putting a truck stop on top of Flat Top Mountain so truck drivers can check their equipment before heading down the mountain is another option being considered, Barr stated; however, the training of future truck drivers has been a cause of concern.

“The trucking industry is in large growth now and is growing faster than it can find drivers,” he said. “They’re trying to get laws passed to allow 18 year olds to drive across country; the age limit is 21 now.”

Barr said he just wants to make sure that truck driver training is thorough “to make sure drivers are ready before they turn them loose.” Technology helps, but technology also “puts those big screens on their (dashboards)” and creates more distractions while driving.

“We’re trying to look at this comprehensively and doing a lot of different things to make that highway as safe as we can,” Barr stated after the dedication service. Barr said officials are trying to take a comprehensive approach to making the roadway there as safe as possible.



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GAO tells DOT it needs to provide a standard definition of underride crashes



The GAO said from 2008 through 2017,  an average of about 219 fatalities from underride crashes involving large trucks were reported annually, representing less than 1% of total traffic fatalities over that time frame. (Courtesy: INSURANCE INSTITUTE FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY)

WASHINGTON — The General Accounting Office has recommended that the Department of Transportation take steps to provide a standardized definition of underride crashes and data fields, share information with police departments on identifying underride crashes, establish annual inspection requirements for rear guards and conduct additional research on side underride guards.

The DOT concurred with GAO’s recommendations, which were first issued in March and made public April 15.

Truck underride crashes are collisions in which a car slides under the body of a truck — such as a tractor-trailer or single-unit truck — because of the height difference between the vehicles.

During these crashes, the trailer or truck may intrude into the passenger compartment, leading to severe injuries or fatalities.

Current federal regulations require trailers to have rear guards that can withstand the force of a crash, whereas the rear guards required for single-unit trucks do not have to be designed to withstand a crash.

There are no federal side or front underride guard requirements.

The GAO said the recommendations were the result of a study after it was asked to review data on truck underride crashes and information on underride guards.

The GAO studied the data DOT reports on underride crashes and the development and use of underride guard technologies in the United States.

GAO said it had analyzed DOT’s underride crash data for 2008 through 2017, reviewed the Newsal Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s proposed regulations and research on new guard technologies and interviewed stakeholders, including DOT officials, industry and safety groups, and state officials selected based on reported underride crash fatalities and other factors.

According to crash data collected by police and reported by NHTSA, fatalities from “underride” crashes represent a small percentage of all traffic fatalities. From 2008 through 2017,  an average of about 219 fatalities from underride crashes involving large trucks were reported annually, representing less than 1% of total traffic fatalities over that time frame.

However, the GAO report said, these fatalities are likely underreported because of variability in  state and local data collection.

For example, police officers responding to a crash do not use a standard definition of an underride crash and states’ crash report forms vary, with some not including a field for collecting underride data. Further, police officers receive limited information on how to identify and record underride crashes.

As a result, NHTSA may not have accurate data to support efforts to reduce traffic fatalities, the GAO said.

The GAO noted that underride guards are in varying stages of development, and gaps exist in inspection of rear guards in current use and in research efforts for side guards.

  • NHTSA has proposed strengthening rear guard requirements for trailers (the rear unit of a tractor-trailer) and estimates about 95 percent of all newly-manufactured trailers already meet the stronger requirements. Although tractor-trailers are inspected, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration annual inspection regulations do not require the rear guard to be inspected, so damaged guards that could fail in a crash may be on the roadways
  • Side underride guards are being developed, but the GAO said stakeholders it interviewed identified challenges to their use, such as the stress on trailer frames due to the additional weight. NHTSA has not determined the effectiveness and cost of these guards, but manufacturers told GAO they are unlikely to move forward with development without such research
  • Based on a 2009 crash investigation, the Newsal Transportation Safety Board recommended that NHTSA require front guards on tractors. NHTSA officials stated that the agency plans to complete research to respond to this recommendation in 2019. However, stakeholders generally stated that the bumper and lower frame of tractors typically used in the U.S.may mitigate the need for front guards for underride purposes.
  • Regarding single-unit trucks, share with policedepsuch as dump trucks, NTSB has recommended that NHTSA develop standards for underride guards for these trucks, but the agency has concluded these standards would not be cost-effective.


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