Friday, October 20, 2017


County DPW Commissioner Urges Roadway Safety

Last year, over 38,000 people were killed on our nation’s roads; an additional 4.4 million people were seriously injured.  The National Safety Council (NSC) indicated 2015 “likely was the deadliest driving year since 2008."  While vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, rose in 2015 at a clip of 3.5%, the National Traffic Safety Administration reports the fatality rate outpaced the VMT increase to the tune of 4.4% in one year.  "These numbers are serving notice: Americans take their safety on the roadways for granted," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, NSC president and CEO.  "Driving a car is one of the riskiest activities any of us undertake in spite of decades of vehicle design improvements and traffic safety advancements.

In 2015, New York realized a numbing 12.8% increase in traffic fatalities across the state; Chemung County itself experienced 11 fatalities on state, county, and local road systems.  This equates to a staggering increase of 267% compared to the previous year’s 3 traffic fatalities, likely not acceptable in any of our minds.  Put in perspective, last year’s nation-wide 38,000 traffic fatalities are equivalent to the loss of the entire population of the City of Elmira and the Villages of Horseheads and Elmira Heights.  This is an alarming statistic, particularly when you realize that many, if not most, of the crashes and deaths are attributable to driver error.  To improve safety on our roads, the National Safety Council recommends drivers:

      • Make sure every passenger buckles up on every trip
      • Designate an alcohol- and drug-free driver or arrange alternate transportation
      • Get plenty of sleep and take regular breaks to avoid fatigue
      • Never use a cell phone behind the wheel, even hands-free
      • Stay engaged in teens' driving habits, as teens are three times as likely to
         crash as more experienced drivers.
      • Learn about your vehicle's safety systems and how to use them. My Car
        Does What can help drivers understand features such as adaptive cruise
        control, blind spot warning systems and backup cameras.

It is not just vehicle driver and passenger deaths contributing to the spike in fatalities.  Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities have also been increasing.  Studies1 show that pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to be killed in a car crash on each trip.  Additionally, higher vehicle speeds increase both the likelihood of a pedestrian being struck by a car and the severity of injury.  According to the NHTSA, most pedestrian deaths occur at night-time, in urbanized areas, at non-intersection locations, or a combination of all three.2   In 2013, one in every five children under the age of 14 who were killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians.  Higher vehicle speeds increase both the likelihood of a pedestrian being struck by a car and the severity of injury. The American Automobile Association (AAA) notes that pedestrians and drivers share the responsibility of keeping themselves and others on the road safe. 

The AAA offers these tips for pedestrians and drivers to keep themselves safe:

• Be Visible
• Stay Alert, Avoid Distractions
• Follow the Rules
• Walk in Safe Places
• Avoid Alcohol Consumption

• Be Alert
• Be Aware of Crosswalks and Safe Practices
• Do Not Drive Under the Influence

According to a 2014 Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report4, most cyclist fatalities in the past three years have occurred in only a small number of states, including New York.  Just six states, California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Texas, accounted for 54% of all cycling traffic fatalities from 2010 through 2012, further highlighting that most cyclist deaths occur in urban areas.  The report also pointed out the growing number of cyclists who are killed are adult men, accounting for three out of every four cyclist deaths.  The GHSA noted 65% of bicyclists killed were not wearing helmets. While twenty-one states and the District of Columbia require children to wear the most basic protective cycling gear – helmets, no states currently require adults to wear a helmet.  According to the GHSA, “The lack of universal helmet use laws for bicyclists is a serious impediment to reducing deaths and injuries, resulting from both collisions with motor vehicles and in falls from bicycles not involving motor vehicles.” 

The NHSTA offers these safety tips for cyclists:

• Wear a Properly Fitted Bicycle Helmet
• Adjust Your Bicycle to Fit
• Check Your Equipment
• See and Be Seen
• Control Your Bicycle
• Watch for and Avoid Road Hazards
• Avoid Riding at Night

Before heading out today, ask yourself how many deaths on our roads are acceptable?  30,000?  5,000?  100?  How about 1?  Now consider, is one death acceptable to you if the deceased was your mother, brother, or best friend?  In the face of this reasoning, most readers will likely say zero deaths are acceptable.  It is our responsibility as parents, family members, employees, and citizens to work toward zero deaths.  What is Toward Zero Deaths (TZD)?  Toward Zero Deaths is the United States’ highway safety vision. It is the only acceptable target for our nation, our families and us as individuals.  One person dies every 16 minutes in a traffic crash in the United States; over the course of a lifetime, nearly every U.S. resident is touched by consequences of traffic crashes.  The Federal Highway Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration all provide technical support to the TZD efforts.  For more information on TZD, please visit, and download the national strategy.

We often hear of the “Three E’s” when it comes to traffic safety – Education, Enforcement, and Engineering.  It is our responsibility to become better educated about safety, and follow applicable laws, relieving our officers of the burden of running radar and writing tickets for traffic offenses.    When we fail to heed safety warnings and act responsibly, we often are introduced to “the “Third E” - Engineering.  The Institute of Traffic Engineers notes that engineered traffic calming is the combination of mainly physical measures that reduce the negative effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behavior and improve conditions for non-motorized street users. traffic calming measures, such as roundabouts, chicanes, and speed humps, are often employed by communities to force a reduction in speed and promote responsible driving, walking, and cycling.  When the “Three E’s become ineffective, we are apt to hit the “Fourth E” head on – Emergency Response.

- Andrew P. Avery, P.E.

Andy is the Public Works Commissioner for Chemung County, the City of Elmira, and the Town of Big Flats.  He is a long-time safety advocate, serving on the executive board of the New York State County Highway Superintendents’ Association, and as the New York representative on the board of directors for the National Association of County Engineers (NACE).  In this role, he also serves as New York’s NACE “Safety Champion.”


1. Beck LF, Dellinger AM, O’Neil ME. Motor vehicle crash injury rates by mode of travel, United States: Using exposure-based methods to quantify differences. Am J Epidemiol 2007;166:212–218.
2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts 2013 Data - Pedestrians. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 2015. Publication no. DOT-HS-812-124. Available at . Accessed June 8, 2016.
3. Rosen E, Sander U. Pedestrian fatality risk as a function of car impact speed. Accid Anal Prev 2009;41:536-542.
4., Accessed June 8, 2016.
5. Lockwood, Ian. ITE Traffic Calming Definition. ITE Journal, July 1997, pg. 22.

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