Jan. 21, 2007 -- Forget icy roads and traffic jams: A new study says that sunny skies and open freeways are more common conditions for fatal traffic accidents.
Also, the bad rap Bostonians have caught for their crazy driving may lead to a number of fender benders, but New England is actually the safest region in the entire United States when it comes to fatal accidents.
About 42,000 people die on America's roads and highways every year, but traffic experts say Americans know startlingly little about the risks. A joint project between the Carnegie Mellon University's Center for the Study and Improvement of Regulation (CSIR) and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety hopes to change that.
The groups have analyzed thousands of fatal accidents and collected the information into a database that can be used to calculate the driving risk according to different variables, including age and sex of the driver, time of day, weather, region and type of vehicle.
Personalized Risk Assessment
The database, called STATS, is available on the Internet, so individual drivers can calculate their own risk, or even compare the risks of hypothetical drivers.
A little test: A woman in her early 20's who drives to the gym weekend mornings -- is she safer if she lives in Florida or New York? The answer: She is three times as likely to die if she is making that drive in Florida.
There have been terrifying reports recently of school bus accidents. Dr. David Gerard, the executive director of CSIR who helped develop a database says many parents watched those reports and decided to keep their kids off the bus.
But, he says, statistics show your child is safer on the bus than with you in the car. And, he adds, "it's probably 100 times riskier to have your child drive with their teenage brother."
"People call them accidents," Gerard said, "but the number of 'accidents' doesn't change from year to year. It's very predictable. It's not an accident, it's an avoidable risk."
The Traffic STATS program calculates risk based on the number of fatalities per 100 million miles traveled in a vehicle.
The Long Road Ahead
Fairly Mahlum of the AAA Foundation hopes the site will interest people and generate some buzz about safety on the road.
"People can tailor the program to their particular area," she says. "We hope they'll be fascinated by it, interested by it and talk about it."
"Until there is education and awareness, drivers will continue to operate as normal," she adds. "We have to shake things up, [to] let people see that driving normally, you're still at risk of being in a fatal collision."
To calculate your risks on the road, go to www.epp.cmu.edu/csir.