In 2011, there were 947 traffic-related deaths on Tennessee roadways, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. This year’s fatality record is on course to be just as high, if not higher. Davidson County has the highest overall crash rate of all Tennessee counties – with a fatal crash rate average of 73 per year – while several other Middle Tennessee counties follow not far behind. Remaining attentive, respectful, and cautious on the road, and educating ourselves and our neighbors about safe driving techniques and principles, can keep Middle Tennesseans safer on our roads and highways.
(Figures courtesy of Tennessee Department of Transportation)
Teenaged drivers may be the most vulnerable population on our highways. All too often, the excitement of new-found freedom behind the wheel, inexperience with highway driving, and lack of awareness and education about highway safety protocols make for a disastrous combination for our teens. Car accidents are the single highest killer of teens in the United States. According to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance's Teens & Trucks program:
"There are 9.4 million kids between the ages of 16 and 24 driving on the highways. They make up only 4.7% of the total number of licensed drivers, but are involved in 10.1% of fatal accidents and in 13.5% of all accidents."
Perhaps even more alarming for Middle Tennessee residents, however, are the local statistics regarding teen driver fatalities. Of the 889 statewide crash fatalities in 2010, 100 involved teen drivers. Davidson County holds the highest “young driver crash rate” among Tennessee counties, with an average of nearly 9,000 young drivers between the ages of 15 and 24 involved in crashes each year, according to 2006-2010 statistics provided by the TN Department of Safety.
Tennessee has more long haul freight activity per mile than any other state in the country (http://www.inrix.com/scorecard/freight.asp), with 77,000 freight trucks passing through our state every day. While multiple factors contribute to this high concentration of trucking traffic – including the existence of key corridors and crossroads cities (where heavily used interstates intersect) – the most important fact to note is that a lot of trucks pass through Middle Tennessee every day. Therefore it is critical that Tennessee drivers know how to best share our roads with freight trucks.
Our friends at the Tennessee Trucking Foundation explain, in A Guide to Safety: Safely Sharing the Road with Large Trucks:
"Large trucks do not operate like cars. They are so large that accelerating, slowing down and stopping take more time and much more space than any other vehicle on the road. They have large blind spots and make wide turns. They are not maneuverable. If they come upon an unexpected traffic situation, there may not be enough room for them to avoid a collision."
Research shows that drivers of passenger cars, especially young drivers, unnecessarily endanger themselves by failing to recognize the different handling characteristics of large trucks. As a result, approximately 70% of crashes involving large trucks and passenger cars are found to be the fault of the car driver, says the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. Many of these accidents could have been prevented if the drivers of passenger cars followed a few simple but imperative rules for sharing the road with trucks, such as these from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance:
- Stay out of trucks’ blind spots (“NO Zones”). Trucks have blind spots much larger than the blind spot of your car. Generally speaking, if you cannot see the truck driver in his or her side mirror, he or she cannot see you.
- Don’t cut off trucks. The average passenger vehicle traveling at 55 mph can stop within 400 feet. A large truck traveling at the same speed can take almost 800 feet to stop. Do not move in front of a large truck and suddenly slow down or stop. The trucker will not be able to stop quickly enough to avoid crashing into you. Cutting it close with a truck can cut your life short.
- Keep a safe distance. While it is never safe to tailgate any vehicle on the highway, following large trucks and buses too closely is particularly dangerous because the size of these vehicles prevents you from seeing the road ahead and having sufficient time to react to slowing or stopped traffic, or another obstacle.
- Expect wide turns. When a vehicle makes a turn, the rear wheels follow a shorter path than the front wheels. Because of their large size, a truck making a right turn may first need to swing left to clear the corner, and vice versa. When following a big rig, check its turn signals before you start to pass. If the truck appears to be turning left, the driver may actually be swinging wide to turn right.
The best way to improve safety on our Middle Tennessee highways is to be informed and to help inform others. Here are some ways you can promote highway safety in your community, and become more educated about safe driving techniques and principles.
- Read and share the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and Tennessee Trucking Foundation’s guides to highway safety, and share this information with your friends and family.
- Support Middle Tennessee organizations promoting highway safety, such as the Tennessee Trucking Foundation. Check out their GivingMatters.com profile or visit their website at www.tntrucking.org.
- To access additional Tennessee highway safety resources and information, visit the Governor's Highway Safety Office website. Inquire about ways you can help advocate for highway safety and safe driving education in your community.
- Volunteer with your local highway safety advocacy groups and agencies. The Governor's Highway Safety Office recently awarded more than $16.2 million in highway safety grants to Tennessee organizations helping to further the cause of saving lives on Tennessee roadways. The full list of grant recipients is here.
- Schedule a highway safety presentation for your school, organization, or business. Contact your local Tennessee Safety Education Lieutenant to do so.
- Contact Tennessee’s Road Team to schedule a free visit to your school, organization or business. Road Team Captains are professional truck drivers who take the message of highway safety all across Tennessee.
Tennessee Trucking Foundation
Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Governor's Highway Safety Office
Tennessee Department of Transportation
INRIX Traffic Scorecard