In an odd policy statement this week, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety criticized the government for focusing too much on distracted driving and unintended acceleration, and ignoring more important safety concerns. “The hypervisibility of these issues diverts attention from initiatives that have far greater potential to save lives,” said the group’s president Adrian Lund. “There’s nothing rational about the way we set highway safety priorities.”
The facts show that both speeding and distracted driving are major safety issues that should be addressed. According to the NHTSA, more than 11,000 people are killed each year in speeding related accidents and 2,500 were killed due to traffic light confusion. Distracted driving, which has become a major issue for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, causes more than 6,000 fatalities each year and has become the number one killer of teenagers.
“Safety is the Department of Transportation’s number one priority,” said NHTSA spokeswoman Olivia Alair. “We are going to continue…making sure cars and trucks are safe to drive, and doing whatever else is necessary to keep Americans safe behind the wheel.”
The IIHS is correct that the public generally sensationalizes distracted driving and unintended acceleration while accidents caused by speeding and running red lights “fail to attract the same degree of public interest or concern.” Part of the reason for this is that, in addition to causing thousands of deaths each year, distracted driving can only be expected to increase as we see more technological advances. But the IIHS errs in suggesting that efforts to curb distracted driving will be fruitless. In fact, many experts predict that the dangerous practice will become as taboo as drunk driving or not wearing a seat belt.
The IIHS’ main flaw in its NHTSA criticism is the assumption that NHTSA and the public cannot act to decrease distracted driving deaths and speeding related fatalities simultaneously. If the public will to save lives is present, both issues can be combated effectively. But it serve as the needed reminder that we should focus more on traditional sources of highway accidents like speeding and running red lights. in both our daily routines and our laws.