Magazine

Does Legislation Make the Roads Safer?

By Dan Steere

For the past 30 years, the common wisdom in America has been that laws that penalize drivers for risky behavior (speed limits, cellphone bans, etc.) reduce accidents. As a result, beginning with the mandatory usage of seatbelts by states in 1984, we have seen hundreds of laws and regulations created in an attempt to make our roads safer. But like so many things in life, just because it is common wisdom doesn’t make it true.
Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations published results of a groundbreaking study, by the Highway Loss Data Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, finding that states that banned the use of hand-held cellphones behind the wheel saw no significant reduction in accident claims.
How could this be? Numerous studies have shown that “distracted driving” – talking or texting behind the wheel – increases the chance of an accident. Yet banning cellphone usage didn’t make but the slightest dent in reducing accident claims.
I think the answer is simple.
Legislation or rules are insufficient in changing driving behavior. Why? Based on driver coaching and outcomes of tens of millions of trips in the U.S. and Europe, we at GreenRoad have found that you need to offer drivers a “carrot” and not just a “stick” if you want to make sustainable changes to driving behavior.
The challenge we face is that driving is no different from any other skill: You need constant feedback in order to improve. Feedback needs to come in the form of both what you are doing wrong (speeding, harsh braking, weaving, etc.) and what you are doing right (gradual acceleration and deceleration, etc.).
We all know the stakes are high when it comes to driving safety. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of work-related and teenage deaths and cost the U.S. more than $230 billion a year. Yet, most people haven’t received constructive feedback on their driving since high school drivers’ ed. The result is that people often have no idea they drive in a high-risk manner, let alone know how to improve their driving.
Fortunately, there is a way to make our roads drastically safer.
More than 80 commercial fleets using a technology-based service have found that by giving drivers ongoing, automated, real-time, in-vehicle feedback, they can reduce crashes and associated costs by 50%, permanently. Cellphone distraction is only one narrow contributing factor to these results.
Our field experience at GreenRoad shows there are at least 120 different driving maneuvers that must be addressed with comprehensive feedback – both real-time in-vehicle and reinforced with prescriptive, driver-specific coaching off the road.
How do we do this? We let drivers know in real-time, via a green, yellow or red light displayed on the dashboard, the degree of risk associated with each maneuver. This is not a backseat driver telling you to slow down. This is a sophisticated solution that directly taps into how people learn.
The fact of the matter is that sometimes we make risky maneuvers knowing we shouldn’t (speeding up to catch the yellow light); others times, we have no idea we’re making a risky maneuver. We at GreenRoad have found that the combination of identifying conscious and unconscious driving behaviors while equipping drivers with the tools to fix them are what lead to long-term changes.
If we really want to get serious about improving driving safety, we have to go beyond the traditional approaches. There is simply too much at stake to rely on legislation alone.
Dan Steere, CEO of GreenRoad, can be reached through www.greenroad.com.

Article Abstract from April, 2010




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