The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has announced a new highway safety plan. The plan contains several components intended to reduce motor vehicle accidents. For one thing, it is designed to warn drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. The plan also includes an attempt to raise awareness about driving in highway work zones. But it does not address ongoing driver training, especially for commercial drivers.
Distracted driving has long been a concern for highway safety advocates. The old distractions, such as fiddling with the CD player or eating and drinking, are still there. And now, of course, texting while driving and improper cell phone use have become major safety issues. In 2010, the Illinois legislature prohibited texting or any other cell phone use while driving, with fines beginning at $75.
There is also the problem of accidents in work zones, which always becomes more acute during the summer construction season. Work zones are dangerous for road construction workers and drivers alike.
In Illinois, according to the state transportation department, there are over 7,000 crashes in work zones each year. In 2010, 32 people were killed in work zones; 25 were drivers or passengers of motor vehicles. The state clearly needs to do more to promote driver and worker awareness.
And then there is the problem of truck accidents. In recent years, accidents involving tractor-trailers have accounted for between 8 and 10.6 percent of all fatal traffic accidents in Illinois, even though they typically account for no more than 3 percent of all highway traffic.
The Illinois Department of Transportation emphasizes its awareness program regarding distracted driving. But it should also do more to promote driver training for both passenger and commercial drivers. For instance, research shows that driver fatigue is a contributing factor in 30 to 40 percent of all diesel truck accidents. Truck drivers, in particular, need more sleep when driving long distances, and companies need to abide by state and federal standards regarding sleep and downtime.
Driver training that addresses aggressive driving, use of drugs or medications, and proper use of GPS systems – along with the use of new technologies that monitor driver performance and offer warnings – would help to minimize fatal and serious accidents. A new federal program, called Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) may help as well. But much more remains to be done to make highways in Illinois and across the country safer.
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