Preventing Car Crashes in Kentucky
“It’s just a fact of life”
That’s true of many things, and maybe auto accidents are among them. In the modern age, car crashes are so commonplace that it’s hard for most of us to muster more than a rubberneck-on-a-road-trip response to them. That is, of course, until they happen to us, or to the people we love.
That’s understandable. It is the nature of humans to make the best of what we can’t control, and there is very little any of us can do as individuals to stop the tide of car crashes across Kentucky.
Or is there?
How We Might Save a Life
The purpose of this article is not to berate anyone for not thinking about car crashes enough. Rather, it’s to make the case that by thinking about them just a little bit more, there is a very real chance we can each save a life — maybe our own, maybe our child’s, maybe the person we’d have hit otherwise.
Kentucky car accidents happen literally every day, and they don’t just manifest out of thin air. There are no supermen standing along the highway, pushing our cars into each other. Gail-force winds do not erupt from asphalt, driving us helplessly off course. And with a few notable exceptions over the last century or so, Kentucky isn’t especially prone to earthquakes.
So, absent any unseen forces maliciously orchestrating traffic accidents, it simply can’t be the case that we as a people are defenseless against them.
A Closer Look: Kentucky Vehicle Accidents
What follows is a hard look at Kentucky traffic accidents. Why do they happen? When do they happen? What are the day-to-day changes that make a catastrophic crash more likely? And how can we make sure that we aren’t victims?
As an auto accident attorney in Pikeville, I’ve been intimately involved in the aftermath of countless Kentucky car crashes over the last 17 years or so. I’ve seen accidents that frighten, infuriate, and astound, and there’s a common theme running throughout almost all of them — they did not have to happen.
It is my contention that Kentucky traffic accidents are not inevitable.
The statistics aren’t in anyone’s favor, mind you. On average, we can each expect to file a car crash claim about once every 18 years. Only a relatively small handful of those will be deadly, but most will cause some degree of compensable injury and/or property damage.
But that’s the way it is, not the way it has to be.
Those numbers are so high because drivers are so careless, and that’s the real crisis here — carelessness. And it’s no more a fact of life than car crashes themselves.
What’s the State Doing?: A Look at Kentucky’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan
The Commonwealth of Kentucky, by way of the Governor’s Executive Committee on Highway Safety, published a hefty PDF in 2011 to outline its vision for a safer Kentucky.
It’s entitled Toward Zero Deaths, or more formally, the Kentucky Strategic Highway Safety Plan (KSHSP).
It begins by identifying a problem: 3,962 people were killed in Kentucky car crashes during the five-year period between 2007 and 2011. That is to say nothing of the many, many more who survived but suffered serious injuries.
Then the report makes an observation: There was improvement during the latter half of that period. There were fewer crashes, injuries, and deaths between 2008 and 2011 than between 2007 and 2008.
Then, a theory: These improvements weren’t happenstance. While crashes do happen somewhat “sporadically,” we can trace direct links between specific safety factors and a reduction in accidents.
And, finally, a belief: If measures in the past have achieved improvements, additional measures in the future can achieve additional improvements. Traffic accidents do not have to be a fact of life in Kentucky, and the goal of reducing highway fatalities in our state to zero is not an altogether unreasonable one.
I quite agree. Unfortunately, the KSHSP timeline might have been unrealistic. Published in 2011, the state aimed at end-of-year 2014 for completion of its goal. Nearly a year after their deadline has passed, though, we’re still nowhere near zero. But we could be someday.
Most Kentucky Auto Accidents Are Entirely Preventable
Driver negligence remains the leading cause of Kentucky traffic accidents. Specifically, KSHSP identified five primary vices of concern:
- Aggressive driving
- Roadway departure (often due to reckless or drowsy driving)
- Distracted driving
- Impaired driving
- Failure to wear seatbelts and helmets.
We might collectively refer to these as “preventable behaviors.”
These are all voluntary actions (or inactions), and if drivers would simply cut it out, the state’s goal of zero traffic deaths would become a reality — or close to it — overnight.
Simply put, drivers’ choices kill Kentuckians.
That is why we Kentucky auto accident attorneys are so keen to hold at-fault drivers responsible for the injuries they cause. As tragedies go, most car crashes are as senseless as they come, and the fact that they’re so common is no reason to let them slide.
Additional Factors Increasing the Likelihood of Highway Fatality
The KSHSP put its eye on a few non-behavioral factors that also increase the likelihood that an accident will occur, or that the damages in a given accident will be severe or fatal. These include:
- Youthful drivers
- Dangerous intersections
- Vehicle defects
- Delayed emergency response
- Involvement of a motorcycle (because the motorcycles threaten the bikers themselves)
- Involvement of commercial truck (because the trucks threaten other drivers)
- Involvement of a pedestrian (because the human body is no match for a high-speed machine).
Those aren’t the only factors. There’s weather, for one. And reduced visibility at night. Perhaps the biggest oversight in the KSHSP, though, is its relative lack of focus on traffic itself. The more cars on the road, the more likely accidents become.
We should consider, then, the factors that bring people to the highway. Rush hours are major concerns. Holidays, too.
Just this fall, the Kentucky State Police issued a warning that the sharp drop in fuel prices during 2015, while otherwise a wonderful thing for our state, might have led to an unexpected uptick in traffic fatalities during that same time period. Cheaper prices lead to greater leisure and, arguably, more nonchalant driving.
Collectively, we might refer to these additional factors as “improvable non-behaviors.”
Improving the Improvable Non-Behaviors
Let’s start with the non-behaviors first, because I suspect they’re the easiest to make some headway with.
The KSHSP strings together a pretty compelling series of recommendations for addressing things like young drivers, motorcycle injuries, faulty intersections, defective vehicles, etc.
If you’re interested, it’s a worth a read — the lengthy document goes into some detail. (You can find it here). But a brief survey of the suggestions inspires some hope about their feasibility:
- Install new lighting and pavement technologies in intersections.
- Overhaul the Kentucky 511 system.
- Provide additional training for emergency responders.
- Add additional parking and resting spaces for commercial truck drivers.
- Make low-cost safety/visibility equipment available to motorcycle drivers.
- Overhaul and modernize high school driver safety education.
These proposals seem practical enough, right? Certainly, they can confer real and reliable benefits to the community. But they can’t stop traffic deaths by themselves.
Preventing the Preventable Behaviors
I mentioned earlier that non-behaviors are probably easier to address than bad behaviors themselves. Isn’t that interesting? And unfortunate? To think that the single biggest source of death on the highway and the single hardest one to eliminate is the one that boils down to a simple, voluntary choice.
For its part, the KSHSP identifies a number of specific measures it can employ to turn the tide. These include:
- Cracking down on law enforcement against careless drivers
- Passing tougher criminal penalties
- Collecting data on problem-prone areas and strategically increasing police presence in these areas
- Encouraging law enforcement to specifically target texting and driving.
- Implementing new and improved field sobriety testing
- Ramping up Kentucky’s “Click It or Ticket” campaigns
- Installing more rumble strips to counter drowsy driving
- Aggressively penalizing negligent manufacturers.
These are all potentially effective measures, but they are limited, in that they aim to better respond to careless driver choices — a laudable goal, but not the same as preventing the bad choices in the first place.
But how do we do that? That is the real challenge, and it is a challenge that has successfully defied us since the days of Henry Ford.
I suspect that a true cultural change is the only real, viable, and long-term solution to preventable negligence. Caring is the only counter to carelessness.
Sadly, laws cannot in and of themselves make people care. Education can, though. New perspectives can. Compelling media can. Conversations can — not only between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve but also (and more importantly) between the community members themselves.
Cultures do not change overnight, but they can and do change, and it is my hope that our culture will evolve toward one of carefulness instead — toward a Kentucky where the Commonwealth’s goal of zero traffic deaths becomes reality at long last.
Challenging the Facts of Life
The funny thing about facts of life is that they are only facts until they are false.
It used to be a “fact of life” that traveling the country took days, that old age began at 50, that HIV was a veritable death sentence, that childbirth was hard to survive. Things change. People change. Technologies advance. Cultures evolve. The last few years should surely have taught us that.
I don’t believe that widespread driver negligence is here to stay. We simply need society to realize that life’s “facts” are sometimes really choices instead, and the choice to keep each other alive on Kentucky’s highways is ours alone to make.
We Handle Car Accident Cases
Billy Johnson is the founding attorney at Johnson Law Firm, a Pikeville personal injury and accident law firm that helps victims and their families throughout Pike County, Eastern Kentucky, and across the entire Bluegrass State. For more information or to get help with a potential claim, call Johnson Law Firm at 606-437-4488 today.
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