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Changes in car fatality beliefs shocking

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In a shocking development, more and more drivers are ignoring safety, preferring to think “they can multi-task, as well as drive safely,” says John Paul, safety service manager for the AAA of

Southern New England. “It just can't be done,” the safety expert noted in a phone interview.

Paul, who has been following traffic safety issues for the American Automobile Assn., Southern New England American Automobile Assn is one New England's long-time auto safety watchers. His words back up the finding of a recent American Automobile Foundation AAA Foundation studies that showed automotive safety slipping in the minds of drivers.

The AAA Foundation began its traffic safety study in 2007. An aggressive program, the Foundation began its work with a compendium of articles by noted scholars, professionals and safety advocates.

With the publication of its initial work in 2007, the easy part was done. It has led to a shocking finding: drivers just aren't as concerned as they were about safety. The overall tone of most participants in this survey is that folks really don't care about safety. They are more concerned with learning to use all the technology built into today's cars.

Multi-task harder than you think

For example, Paul noted that m ost drivers believe they can multi-task easily. Or, to put it another way, “Drivers believe they can use their Bluetooth, create memos and read email and use the screens in their dashboards,” he emphasized. However, studies have found the people who can actually multi-task

In other words, Paul emphasized, drivers' attitudes were changing rapidly. “For example, they (drivers) didn't believe they (messages or drowsiness) were impairments to their ability to drive as they should.

Paul pointed to a couple of issues that have occurred in the last five years where youngsters have lost their lives due to impaired driving caused by texting.

In the first example, he noted, that a senior in a Southern Massachusetts town never appeared at school one day, something which just did not happen. Public safety officials, quickly found her all-wheel-drive vehicle some 200-feet off the road with no signs that the brakes had been applied. At the feet of the driver was d a cellphone with a text message on it. While feeling unhappy about the loss of life, Paul deplored the kind of thinking that put her in the position in the first place

Texting does claim lives

Then there was the 13-year-old paper boy who, while walking his bike across a busy roadway in a clearly marked pedestrian crosswalk, was hit and killed by a driver who admitted he was texting at the time of the accident. He told authorities he never saw the young man crossing the street.

This year marks the AAA Foundation's first full major analysis. Since 2007, Paul noted, the Foundation has determined there has been major shift in driver safety thinking, as well as in statistics.

On the statistics side, the Foundation's study team has highway fatalities and concerns have turned around. Where fatalities had been dropping slowly, but steadily – roughly 5,000 over time– the Foundation found a marked change in attitude. The Foundation has found that this year only 69 percent of respondents were concerned about safety. Drowsy driving was little better at 71 percent. And, texting, which had been a major issue to drivers as recently as four years ago at 87 percent in 2009 has dropped to 81 percent.

Paul summed it up nicely when he reiterated his main point, people are more interested in technology that they are in real safety. He noted that even the auto industry is concerned over the change and automakers such as Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have come out not only with side radar protection, but with more. Indeed, Volvo has developed a pedestrian protection system where the hood pops out on a small airbag that also covers the windshield to protect the pedestrian while also leaving enough hood propped up so the pedestrian will bounce up and be protected.

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