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January 2012 

Older Driver Safety Week

Staff infoZine


Missouri's older citizens are more active than ever and tend to remain behind the wheel well into the retirement years.


Jefferson City, MO - infoZine - This week - Older Driver Safety Week, December 5 - 9 - recognizes that fact, as does the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

In recent years, MoDOT has worked to enhance visual cues on state highways to help those whose eyesight isn't quite what it once was. Improvements include larger lettering on signs, wider stripes, putting intersection signs well in advance of the crossing and placing chevrons - arrow-shaped markers - to guide drivers through deep curves.

These changes, in addition to rumble stripes that signal when someone leaves a driving lane, give motorists more time to receive and react to information. That helps drivers of every age.

MoDOT is also a member of the Subcommittee on Elder Mobility and Safety within the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety. This group identifies and researches issues that affect older drivers.

Older drivers can increase their own safety by observing the following tips:

  • Have regular medical and vision checkups because health-related issues have more impact on driving ability than age.
  • Adjust the mirrors to fit your needs.
  • Adjust the seat so your chest is 10 inches or more from the steering wheel and your line of vision is at least three inches above the wheel.
  • Attend a driver safety course.
  • Ask a passenger to help with reading maps or providing directions.

All travelers, regardless of age, can increase their safety by buckling up. It's the quickest, easiest way to help more citizens ARRIVE ALIVE.

If you have questions about older drivers' safety, please call MoDOT at 1-800-800-2358 or visit


Article link:


US traffic fatalities hit lowest level since 1949


A report shows almost 33,000 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents last year, the lowest number of deaths since 1949. NBC's Brian Williams reports.


By Rob Lovitt, contributor


Annual traffic deaths in the U.S. have fallen to their lowest level in six decades, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. 


Released on Thursday, the figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that highway deaths fell to 32,885 in 2010. That's the lowest figure since 1949 and represents a 2.9 percent drop from 2009 - despite the fact that Americans drove almost 46 billion more miles during the year. Americans collectively drove about 3 trillion miles in 2010.

"While we have more work to do to continue to protect American motorists, these numbers show we're making historic progress when it comes to improving safety on our nation's roadways," said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement.


Industry representatives cited several contributing factors for the drop, such as graduated license programs for young drivers, hands-free cell phone laws and stiffer drunk driving penalties. 


"Safer vehicles, safer roads and safer drivers as a result of traffic-safety policies that have been implemented over the last few years are certainly contributors," said Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research at AAA. "It's the combination of all these factors that have given us the results we're seeing today."


Additional data provided by DOT supports that idea:

  • Deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers dropped 4.9 percent in 2010, resulting in 10,228 fatalities compared to 10,759 in 2009.
  • Fatalities declined in most categories in 2010, including for occupants of passenger cars and light trucks. (Fatalities rose among pedestrians, motorcycle riders and large truck occupants.)  
  • Deaths among young drivers (ages 16-20) have dropped 39 percent over the last five years, compared to a 23 percent drop in the general population.

The latest figures also include a new measure of fatalities caused by distracted driving, essentially a refinement of existing data that focuses more directly on situations where dialing a phone, sending a text or the activities of another person or event are likely to lead to a crash. According to DOT, 3,092 fatalities were the result of such "distraction-affected crashes."


"Distracted driving has become a much bigger issue in the last few years," said Nelson. "The measure they'll now report will be a better indicator of the true impact distractions have on traffic crashes."


That, Nelson said, should also help direct road-safety efforts going forward: "The challenge is to identify the areas where we're making the greatest gains and leveraging those to see the numbers drop even further."

Texas Blood Test Aims at Drunk Drivers



Texans arrested for drunken driving should be prepared to give blood this holiday season.

Authorities and suspects in Montgomery County, Texas, wait for a warrant to be drafted and faxed to a judge.


Cities and counties across the state are increasingly demanding that drunken-driving suspects who refuse to take breathalyzer tests submit to blood tests that measure the amount of alcohol in their systems.


The blood-test policy-dubbed "no refusal" by law-enforcement officials, because it prevents drivers from refusing to provide evidence of intoxication-has grown from a novel procedure used in a few Texas jurisdictions to an initiative used by police statewide, particularly during weekends and holidays when drunken driving is most common. The no-refusal initiative has also caught on in other states, including Florida, Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri.


The attraction for law enforcement and prosecutors is that blood evidence is a powerful tool in front of juries. Armed with blood evidence of intoxication, prosecutors can win convictions in more than 90% of drunk-driving cases, said Houston police Capt. Carl Driskell, who works in the traffic-enforcement division.


And often, lawyers say, defendants faced with blood evidence admit their guilt and don't bother with a trial. "If it bleeds, it pleads," said Fort Worth prosecutor Richard Alpert.


Nurse Karen Hamm draws blood from a suspect after a warrant was received.


Texas courts have uniformly upheld the constitutionality of mandatory blood testing, attorneys said. But criminal-defense lawyers say such mandatory tests trample suspects' rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. "It's an erosion of civil liberties," said Austin defense lawyer Samuel Bassett. "If we can poke people involuntarily for evidence, where do we draw the line?"


The use of blood tests to measure a suspect's blood-alcohol content isn't new, but these no-refusal initiatives generally streamline the process by having magistrate judges standing by at a police station or other location to issue the needed search warrant. If the warrant is granted, nurses or other medical professionals are at the ready to draw blood. Police are empowered to strap a suspect to a chair, if necessary, to obtain a blood sample. That allows blood to be drawn quickly-a key benefit to prosecutors because blood-alcohol concentrations dissipate over time.

"With no refusal, you don't have to go tromp down to the police station and then to a judge's house and then to a hospital, because you have everyone in one central location," said Warren Diepraam, a prosecutor in Montgomery County, north of Houston, which has a no-refusal campaign in place from Thanksgiving through New Year's.


San Antonio defense lawyer Jamie Balagia, a former police officer who now bills himself as the DWI Dude, voiced concern that magistrate judges involved in no-refusal campaigns may be prone to rubber-stamp search warrants. "There needs to be more transparency," Mr. Balagia said.


Over the July 4 weekend, almost 500 law-enforcement agencies in Texas participated in a no-refusal campaign that netted about 1,500 DWI arrests. Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, recently implemented mandatory blood testing year-round.


In El Paso, police find that the policy actually encourages people to submit to breath tests. "We give people the option of blowing into a tube or getting poked with a needle," said Lt. Rod Liston. "People increasingly are going with the less painful option."


Police can't require breath tests for the simple reason that they can't physically compel someone to breathe out into a tube sufficiently to complete the test. So prosecutors bringing DWI cases sometimes have to rely on officers' eyewitness testimony, which they say often isn't enough to impress jurors accustomed to television crime dramas that feature cutting-edge forensic evidence.


"It's the CSI effect," said Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed, referring to the popular television show about crime-scene investigators.


Last year, about 800 traffic deaths in Texas involved a legally intoxicated driver, and that number has steadily increased in recent years, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. In 2009, Texas had the most people killed in alcohol-impaired crashes, according to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


The state agency has offered grant money to four Texas jurisdictions to help them fund no-refusal programs, said Terry Pence, the agency's traffic-safety director.


A year ago, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a national "no refusal" initiative, offering to provide states help to implement the policy.


"About one in four DWI suspects refuses a breathalyzer test in order to avoid prosecution," Mr. LaHood said at the time. "It's a persistent, ongoing problem."

RU1? Texting by drivers is up 50 percent even as states pass laws banning it, government says

By Associated Press


WASHINGTON - For all the criticism and new legal bans, texting by drivers just keeps increasing, especially among younger motorists.


About half of American drivers between 21 and 24 say they've thumbed messages or emailed from the driver's seat. And what's more, many drivers don't think it's dangerous when they do it - only when others do.


A national survey, the first government study of its kind on distracted driving, and other data released Thursday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration underscore the difficulty authorities face in discouraging texting and cellphone talking while driving.


At any given moment last year on America's streets and highways, nearly one in every 100 car drivers was texting, emailing, surfing the Web or otherwise using a hand-held electronic device, the safety administration said. And those activities spiked 50 percent over the previous year, even as states rush to ban the practices.


Last month, Pennsylvania became the 35th state to forbid texting while driving.


In 2010 there were an estimated 3,092 deaths in crashes affected by a wide range of driver distractions, from eating meals to thumbing email, the safety administration said. That number was derived using a new methodology aimed at getting a more precise picture of distracted driving deaths and can't be compared to tallies from previous years, officials said.


The agency also takes an annual snapshot of drivers' behavior behind the wheel by staking out intersections to count people using cellphones and other devices, as well as other distracting behavior.


While electronic gadgets are in ever greater use by drivers, motorists are deeply conflicted about it, a NHTSA survey of over 6,000 drivers found.


Most said they would answer a cellphone call while driving and continue to drive after answering. And nearly two of 10 acknowledged sending texts or emails from behind the wheel. That spiked up to half of drivers 21 to 24 years old.


More than half of drivers said making a cellphone call made no difference to their driving performance, and a quarter said texting or emailing made no difference. But 90 percent said that when they are passengers they feel very unsafe if the driver is texting or emailing.


Indeed, big majorities of drivers surveyed support bans on hand-held cellphone use and texting while driving - 71 percent and 94 percent, respectively. And most said they want people who violate the bans to be punished with fines of $100 or more. Almost a quarter supported fines in the $200 to $499 range.


"Everyone thinks he or she is an above average driver - it's all the nuts out there who need educating," said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.


About twice as many drivers reported answering incoming calls as making calls while driving, 71 percent to 41 percent. And more drivers reported reading than sending texts or emails.


There were very few situations in which drivers said they would never talk on the phone or send texts. Bad weather was the most frequent reason cited. Few drivers said they would never place a call or send a message if they'd seen a police officer, had a child on board or were driving at nighttime or in a marked school zone.


The survey results "help us understand why some people continue to make bad decisions about driving distracted," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said. "But what's clear from all of the information we have is that driver distraction continues to be a major problem."


The increase in texting while driving came even though many states have banned the practice, and that's alarming, said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association.


"It is clear that educational messages alone aren't going to change their behavior," Adkins said. "Rather, good laws with strong enforcement are what is needed. Many drivers won't stop texting until they fear getting a ticket."


The safety administration reported earlier this year that pilot projects in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn., produced significant reductions in distracted driving by combining stepped-up ticketing with high-profile public education campaigns.


Before and after each enforcement wave, NHTSA researchers observed cellphone use by drivers and conducted surveys at drivers' license offices in the two cities. They found that in Syracuse, hand-held cellphone use and texting declined by a third. In Hartford, there was a 57 percent drop in hand-held phone use, and texting behind the wheel dropped by nearly three-quarters.


However, that was with blanket enforcement by police.


"The key measure of all this is, do these restrictions reduce crashes? So far, there is no evidence that crashes are reduced when cellphone and texting restrictions are implemented," Rader said.


But safety advocates are pushing for a national ban on texting while driving. A bill introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., would cut back highway funds to states that fail to enact a ban. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has also advocated a national ban.


Overall, 32,885 people died in traffic crashes in the United States in 2010, a nearly 3 percent drop and the lowest number since 1949. Traffic deaths have been declining for several years. Safety researchers generally attribute the lower deaths to a decline in driving because of the poor economy combined with better designed and equipped cars and stronger safety laws.


Bucking the trend, there were 4,502 motorcycle deaths in 2010, a 0.7 percent increase. That may mean the sudden 16 percent decline in motorcycle deaths in 2009 is beginning to reverse. Overall, motorcycle deaths have doubled since 1995.