Chicago hosts Largest U.S. Highway Safety Conference March 14

Let's Take the Road to Zero, Illinois

This week, Chicago will host the largest gathering of safety professionals in the United States at the 40th annual Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities. Approximately 2,000 federal and state government officials, law enforcement agents, public health advocates, and auto and insurance professionals will gather for the safety convening, all with one unified goal: to educate motorists and make U.S. roadways safer for drivers, passengers and pedestrians, reducing traffic fatalities to zero.

This much-needed assembly of safety advocates comes at a time when roadway behavior is at its worst. The United States is facing a consistent increase in highway deaths: last year an estimated 36,096 people died on U.S. roads. The causes of many of these avoidable roadway tragedies include speeding, impaired and intoxicated driving, distracted driving, and irresponsible motorist behaviors such as running red lights.

The great state of Illinois is no stranger to highway fatalities. Remarkably, in 2019, there were approximately 313,000 crashes on Illinois roadways. In simple terms, approximately 858 traffic crashes occurred per day. That means that more than ten people were injured per hour and nearly three died on the roadways every day.

With so much at stake, promoting safety information to motorists and those on the roads is essential to saving the lives of those in our families and in our communities. Education is the key to safer driving behaviors and that means keeping all motorists and communities informed as to the realities of dangerous driving behaviors.

For example, speeding is involved in approximately one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities and continued to be a dangerous driving habit during the pandemic. Despite fewer cars on the road in 2020, AAA found a higher likelihood of reckless drivers on streets and highways during the height of the pandemic. Furthermore, a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) revealed that rising state speed limits over the 25 years from 1993-2017 have cost nearly 37,000 lives overall, including more than 1,900 just in 2017. By reducing speeds behind the wheel, we can reduce loss of lives on our roadways.

Alcohol and marijuana impaired driving also remain a top cause of auto crashes in the U.S., and approximately one-third of all U.S. highway fatalities. Reckless driving decisions, including driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is 100% preventable, and were the cause of more than 1,000 children's deaths in 2018. With so many options including public transportation, designating a driver, or utilizing a pick-up service, these horrifying tragedies can be absolutely avoided.

Distracted driving behind the wheel remains a fatal decision. In 2019, more than 3,000 U.S. roadway fatalities occurred as a result of someone talking, texting, or using a handheld device behind the wheel. Despite laws enacted in many U.S. states designed to reduce the use of devices for messaging or texting behind the wheel, cellphone use remains a significantly dangerous problem.

Adult drivers should be made aware that teenagers that drive on U.S. roadways have a much higher level of risk when getting behind the wheel. In fact, teen drivers are about 3 times more likely than drivers 20 and older to die in a crash, are more prone to losing focus in the driver's seat and less likely to lower their speed to compensate for slick roads or poor visibility.

For those meeting this week in Chicago in an effort to promote safety, the evidence is clear: keeping our U.S. highways and roadways safe means working together to educate motorists. By creating a culture that understands the realities of taking risks behind the wheel, we can all create a generation of safer roadways for everyone in Illinois.

Robert Passmore is Vice President of Auto & Claims Policy for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association and is based in Chicago, Illinois.

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