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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - November/December 2001

''Put The Brakes on Fatalities'' Day

To help reduce fatalities and injuries on the nation's highways, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) joined a host of other organizations to promote the first annual Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day. The goal of this highway safety campaign is to focus public awareness on driver behavior, vehicle safety, and roadway improvements. Each year, about 41,000 people in the United States lose their lives in traffic crashes.

"For the first time in more than five years, our traffic death tolls have increased, even though major strides have been made in [curtailing] risky driving behaviors and in [promoting] vehicle and road safety," said National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., at a press conference held on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 10. "With a large segment of the population aging and a big increase in the number of young, less-experienced drivers on the road, it's time to tackle the problem head on before things get worse."

FHWA Administrator Mary Peters speaks at a press conference held on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 10, to promote Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day.

DOT and several other organizations signed a memorandum designating Oct. 10 of every year as Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day. Runge and Federal Highway Administrator Mary E. Peters signed the memorandum on behalf of DOT. Others who signed included Dean E. Carlson, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; Barbara Harsha, executive director of the National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives; Larry Emig of the National Society of Professional Engineers; William Wilkins of The Road Information Program (TRIP); Susan Pikrallidas of the American Automobile Association (AAA); and William Fay of the Roadway Safety Foundation. (The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is also a supporter of the observance; however, Administrator Joseph Clapp was unable to attendthe ceremony because he was appearing before a Senate committee.)

"We don't believe in traffic accidents," said Administrator Peters at the signing. "We call the dangerous moments that take more than 100 lives every day 'crashes.' Crashes have causes, and when you know the cause, you can have more success working on solutions. One solution - keep the driver on the road through engineering, education, and enforcement."

Facts About Roadway Safety

The Federal Highway Administration is working with state departments of transportation and local highway agencies to put in place cost-effective solutions to reduce crashes from all causes.

Research shows that the most significant category of crashes is the single-vehicle run-off-road crash, which accounts for 37 percent of all highway fatalities. Roadway improvements such as rumble strips, retroreflective signs and markings, skid-resistant pavements, and the removal of roadside hazards such as trees and poles could greatly reduce the number of run-off-road fatalities.

Other major categories include speed-related crashes, which account for 30 percent of all roadway-related fatalities; pedestrian and bicycle crashes, which represent 12 percent of fatalities; and intersection crashes, which represent 23 percent of fatalities.

For more information on roadway safety, visit the FHWA Safety Web site (

Several states also participated in the first Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day.

In Wisconsin, state Transportation Secretary Terry Mulcahy announced a Fatality-Free Day campaign, and the campaign message is: "Drive as if your life depends on it." In addition, Wisconsin developed a poster, which depicts a 2001 calendar with big zeros on all the dates with no fatalities; so far, Wisconsin has had 57 fatality-free days. Secretary Mulcahy asked everyone in Wisconsin to wake up in the morning and to pledge, "I'm not going to be involved in a fatal motor vehicle crash today." Also, on hand at the ceremony were John Evans, director of the Bureau of Transportation Safety in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation; State Patrol (DSP) Superintendant Doug Van Buren; and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Division Administrator Bill Fung.

Alcohol and Driving

Every 33 minutes, someone in this county dies in an alcohol-related crash. About two out of every five Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time in their lives, and many will be innocent victims. Alcohol involvement is the single greatest factor in motor vehicle deaths and injuries.



New Mexico sponsored several activities. The governor's representative for highway safety, Terry Schiavone, who is also the Program Division director for the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department (NMSHTD), participated in a press conference in Santa Fe along with other state highway officials and state police officers. Reuben Thomas, the administrator of the New Mexico Division of FHWA, also participated and was interviewed by the press. As an example of a project to improve safety, Thomas highlighted the installation of rumble strips on all Interstate highways in the state. A public service announcement that was prepared by NMSHTD about Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day was aired on local television stations.

In Oklahoma, Gov. Frank Keating said, "Motor vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death for all Americans from 6 to 33 years old. … We can make a difference to stop the carnage on our nation's roads." State Secretary of Transportation Herschal Crow expressed his hope that Oklahoma drivers willdrive defensively and will focus on their driving habits and on making a conscious effort to be more alert so that every day can be a zero-fatality day. Lubin Quiñones, FHWA's assistant administrator for the Oklahoma Division, offered some practical tips to reduce the chances of being in a crash - drive as if your life depends on it, obey the postedspeedlimits, slow down in bad weather and in special construction and school zones, and drive sober.

Drowsy Driving

Each year, falling asleep while driving causes at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 40,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities.

The drowsy driver is most frequently a young man (age 16 to 29), often a bright, energetic, and hard-working teen, whose crashes tend to occur in early afternoon.

Sleep is the only real antidote to sleepiness. Scientific studies show that common stopgap actions, such as getting out of a car briefly and engaging in some exercise, playing the radio loudly, or drinking coffee, are not effective remedies.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers, along with a host of national transportation, safety, and engineering organizations, contributed to Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day in Texas. "It's a sad fact that Texas leads the nation in traffic fatalities," said state Sen. Steve Ogden. "The good news is we can all do something about this statistic." Carlos Lopez, TxDOT's traffic operations director, emphasized that "individual action can make a real difference in saving lives."

Seat Belts and Child Restraints

Undoubtedly, seat belts save lives, and protective restraints for children are just as important. From 40 percent to 50 percent of children ages 4 to 8, who are killed in crashes, are unrestrained. Properly used booster seats - which let older kids who are shorter than 55 inches (140 centimeters) gain the fullest protection from standard backseat belts designed for adults - substantially reduce the risk of injury in a crash.

Some people believe that if they choose not to wear a seat belt, they are only potentially harming themselves; however, we all pay when people don't buckle up. The cost of inpatient hospital care for an unbelted occupant of a vehicle involved in a crash averages $5,000 more that the cost of care for a belted occupant. The general public bears 85 percent of such costs.

In New Jersey, Transportation Commissioner James Weinstein, FHWA Division Administrator Dennis Merida, and Pam Fischer of American Automobile Association of New Jersey held a press conference to urge motorists to "Put The Brakes On Fatalities." untitled_10

Similar programs were conducted in Louisiana, Nebraska, and North Dakota.

Highway agencies and organizations spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on safety-related projects, but the importance of activities such as Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day was succinctly expressed by John L. Craig, director of the Nebraska Department of Roads. "Even with these accomplishments, in the end, each roadway user is the key to safety."

Ann Walls is a marketing specialist in FHWA's Safety Core Business Unit. She is a member of the American Marketing Association. She received a bachelor's degree in business management (with an emphasis in marketing) from the University of Maryland.

The sponsoring groups have launched a Web site( to provide materials and information on the campaign.


Bicyclists Vehicle Safety

A pedestrian is injured in a traffic crash every six minutes, and one is killed every 107 minutes. Most pedestrian accidents occur in cities, at night, away from intersections. In nearly half of the vehicle crashes involving pedestrians, alcohol is a factor. Perhaps surprisingly, in 31 percent of those cases, it's the pedestrian who is legally drunk.

In 1999, 750 bicyclists were killed in traffic-related crashes, and approximately 51,000 were injured. About 26 percent of the fatalities were children age 14 and younger, making this one of the most frequent causes of injury-related deaths for young children.

Bicycle helmets are about 85-percent effective in mitigating head and brain injuries, and so, the use of a helmet is the single most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes.

Technological improvements and structural changes, including air bags, seat belts, and child restraints, make today's vehicles safer than ever. Proper vehicle maintenance also helps to save lives. However, to be effective, all of these safety elements require individuals to make proper use of them.

Information on vehicle safety ratings can be found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site (