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Traffic accident deaths rise alarmingly for the second year

California residents may recall President Obama setting a goal last year to eliminate traffic accident deaths within 30 years. It was hoped that the advent of autonomous vehicle technology would eliminate the human error thought to be responsible for most highway crashes, but figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Oct. 6 suggest that sophisticated accident avoidance and prevention systems have done little to stem a worrying increase in fatal accidents.

According to the NHTSA report, motor vehicle accident fatalities increased by 5.6 percent in 2016 to 37,461. This alarming rise comes at a time when automobiles are safer than they have ever been and public information campaigns relentlessly remind motorists of the dangers of negligent driving behavior. Highway deaths began falling in 2007 and reached their lowest point in 2014, but they have now risen sharply for two consecutive years.

Older cars more dangerous to drive than newer models

California residents may love driving new cars because they're fun, stylish and equipped the latest technology, especially safety features. Some divers might prefer older cars because new cars depreciate greatly in the first year off the lot, making used cars a better bargain. It's these older cars, however, that can be deadlier.

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the risk for car accident fatalities increases as the age of the vehicle increases. Motorists driving cars 18 years or older are 71 percent more likely to die in a car crash than motorists driving vehicles less than 3 years old. The fatality percentage drops as the age of the older car drops. For example, the fatality risk for drivers of cars 4 to 7 years old is only 10 percent higher than for the newest cars. The federal agency adjusted the risk rate for such factors as the age of the driver and blood alcohol content level.

Safe driving practices with large trucks

Because of the size and weight of large trucks like 18-wheelers, drivers of passenger vehicles in California have to be extra cautious when they are sharing the road with trucks. Knowing what to do near big rigs can help prevent motor vehicle accidents.

Many drivers may want to avoid driving with large trucks in front of them. However, it is important that they practice patience and be fully aware of the conditions on the road. They should ignore the urge to accelerate to cut off a large truck that is attempting to move into their lane. Large vehicles are not able to slow down and stop as quickly as passenger vehicles, and if they are abruptly cut off, an accident could occur.

Tips for night driving

Statistics have shown that the rate of traffic fatalities are three times as great at night than during the day. Many California motorists have realized that their confidence in driving is not as strong after the sun has gone down. There are a few reasons for this.

At night, it becomes much harder to see other vehicles, pedestrians, stop signs, bicyclists, and animals. It is also more difficult to ascertain distances between vehicles. For many drivers who have night blindness, the problem is exacerbated. In addition, many older people find that their vision has gotten worse as they have aged. The National Safety Council has noted that drivers who are 50 years of age might need double the amount of light to see as well as people who are 20 years younger.

Drivers send mixed signals in distracted driving study

California has some of the strictest distracted driving laws in the country, and the results of a recent study conducted by Progressive Insurance suggest that most drivers in the Golden State support these measures. An overwhelming 97 percent of the women and 88 of the men who responded to the insurance company's online poll said that they supported tough distracted driving laws, and 65 percent cited cellphone use behind the wheel as the leading cause of car accidents.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration add weight to these beliefs. Distracted driving accidents claimed 3,477 lives and left 391,000 road users injured in 2015, according to the safety agency, and the data reveals that teens are the age group most likely to be involved. The recent distracted driving study also indicates that the problem may be more pronounced among younger drivers. Less than 6 percent of drivers aged 55 or older responded yes when they were asked if they could text while driving safely, but that figure soared to a worrying 62 percent when the same question was asked to drivers aged between 18 and 34.

Road hazards that commonly occur in the fall

While many California residents love fall for the cooler weather, holidays and sweaters, the fall season can be particularly dangerous for drivers. Due to the changing weather conditions, the roads can become more hazardous, potentially resulting in serious car accidents.

During the first few weeks of fall, rain can create major road hazards as the water often sits on top of dust and oil that has not yet had a chance to wash away. This makes the pavement slippery and slick. Puddles of water can also potentially cause hydroplaning if a person is driving too fast. Leaves and other foliage debris on the road also soak up the water and become slick. Further, the foliage debris can hide potholes and other hazards that could cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle.

Wheel spikes and liability in California

Hawaii is one of the states to take the lead on legislation that aims to eliminate "dangerous wheels" such as wheels with wheel spikes. The statute prohibits any cap, wheel cover, or wheel decoration that extends at least four inches beyond the portion of the wheel rim that extends away from the vehicle.

It's not just local governments that seek to eliminate dangerous wheel decorations, but it's also trucking companies. Many have banned them because they project an image of aggressive to operators of other vehicles. The companies implementing this prohibition want to foster an image that their drivers operate their vehicles safely and in a reasonable manner. Wheel spikes are counter to this image, and the spikes could create a negative image for the company.

Effectiveness of crash avoidance systems

California residents might like to know about an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study that looked at collision avoidance systems. Researchers studied vehicles that had lane departure warning systems and blind spot alerts. They also examined accident data for more than 5,000 accidents in 2015. They focused on accidents that the warning systems were made to protect against.

Collision avoidance technology reduces the amount of injury crashes by 21 percent. Sideswipes and head-on collisions in single-vehicle accidents were 11 percent lower in vehicles with the safety technology. The IIHS estimates more than 55,000 injuries could have been prevented if more passenger vehicles had lane departure warning systems.

3-car crash kills 1, injures 5

The California Highway Patrol reported that a car accident that occurred on Aug. 13 left one person dead and five with injuries. The crash occurred on Highway 88 and Waterloo Road in Stockton at about 2:30 p.m., resulting in the closing of the roadway for almost two hours.

Authorities said that it appeared that a Nissan Altima was traveling west when it crossed into oncoming traffic. It collided with a GMC Sierra pickup truck. A Ford Tauras that was traveling east behind the pickup collided into the back end of the truck. The driver of the Altima died at the scene of the crash. The Altima's front passenger suffered injuries that were described as critical. The two occupants of the GMC truck were also critically injured. Two other in the Ford complained of pain to the authorities but it was not known if they were transported to a hospital.

Sleep apnea screening criteria for truckers will not change

California truck drivers will not be subject to a new set of screening criteria for sleep apnea. On August 4, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a notice that it would withdraw an initiative that dealt with these screening requirements. The agency had worked on the rule throughout 2016 in an effort to standardize criteria for sleep apnea screening. There were several meetings and listening sessions held throughout the country, and the agency also sought input from industry organizations.

Recommendations were for drivers with a BMI of at least 33 and risk factors such as being older than 42 or drivers with a BMI of at least 40 to be screened for sleep apnea. However, up to 40 percent of drivers may have been required to undergo the screening at significant cost to themselves. Ultimately, the FMCSA said that it was unable to collect enough data to make the change.

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