Rise in traffic fatalities linked to aging population, distracted driving

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RALEIGH – With about 20 percent of the population in Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender Counties 65 years and older, The Insurance Federation of North Carolina (IFNC) is offering senior drivers, as well as all drivers, several safety tips to help alleviate traffic accidents.

TRIP, a national transportation research group, reported that 18 percent of North Carolina’s traffic fatalities involved at least one driver that was at least 65 years of age. In an environment where a growing population of senior drivers accounts for a disproportionate amount of traffic fatalities, road safety for all drivers is becoming increasingly important.

The Wilmington area can't hide from the rise in traffic crashes across the state.
The Wilmington area can’t hide from the rise in traffic crashes across the state.

“Driver safety is an important issue for all segments of the driving population,” said Russ Dubisky, IFNC spokesman. “Insurance companies and other membership organizations offer driver safety courses for aging adults, as well as teen drivers, and some insurers may even offer a discount for the successful completion of approved courses.”

According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, 1,385 people were killed in the state as a result of traffic accidents in 2015. That’s an 8.1 percent increase from the year prior. That number grew to more than 1,600 in 2016. North Carolina also saw nearly a 12 percent hike in the number of people injured in addition to the number of traffic crashes reported during the same time period.

There were a combined 46 traffic fatalities in 2015 across the Wilmington area, with the highest number of reported motor vehicle crashes in the state, rising each month to over 25,000 during a three-month span, October-December.

“We are seeing a recent trend and North Carolina isn’t alone in that,” Dubisky added. “Nationally, auto fatalities and accidents are up in the region and across the country. There’s no exception to the Wilmington area.

“We need to pay attention to this. The number of fatalities, being over 1,600 in the state should really alarm people.”

Traffic on the Wilmington side of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. Image courtesy NCDOT.
Traffic on the Wilmington side of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. Image courtesy NCDOT.

While the area is notoriously known to locals for its fair share of fender benders, IFNC has listed simple safety tips for any driver, and especially for senior drivers.

Avoid dangerous driving conditions – If possible, try to avoid driving in inclement weather when visibility may be limited, or roadways may be wet or slick.  Driving at night and during rush hour can also be dangerous, especially if your vision is impaired. 

Improve your driving position – Make sure your seat is positioned to put you in the proper driving position. This will help you comfortably and easily reach the steering wheel, see over the front of your vehicle, see your side mirrors, and easily reach the gas pedal and brake.

Tips to make sure you are in the right position:

  • Keep the steering wheel at a comfortable, but significant distance from your chest. If the steering wheel is too close, it could result in an injury should an airbag deploy.
  • Raise the height of the seat so that your eyes are a few inches above the steering wheel. You can do this by:
    • Adjusting the steering wheel itself.
    • Adjusting the height of your seat.
    • Sitting on an additional seat cushion, if necessary.
  • Move your side mirrors to avoid blind spots.
  • Raise or lower the headrest so that it is directly behind your head.

Consider taking a mature driver course – Completing a driver training course can help drivers learn defensive driving techniques, learn about updated state laws, and help drivers make right-of-way decisions.  Improving driving skills can improve confidence and help keep you safe behind the wheel, according to the IFNC.

A wreck on the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge delayed traffic Wednesday morning. Photo by Jeff Reichert‎.
A wreck on the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge delayed traffic Wednesday morning. (Photo by Jeff Reichert‎)

While the instructions mentioned above may seem elementary to the more experienced driver, keeping these simple guidelines in place when behind the wheel may help dampen this increasingly worrisome trend, according to Dubisky.

“It seems like all the stuff we suggest is very simple, however, even something as simple as avoiding driving in poor conditions, there are things you can focus on, reducing your speed, and many fail to do so,” Dubisky said.

Another issue not related to age: distracted driving.  Distracted driving among teenagers and all drivers continues to be a growing issue. According to NCDOT, from 2010-2015: people ages 18-34 comprise 38 percent of all crashes.  Distracted driving is the leading cause of accidents in the state.

Click here to read the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) top 10 tips to avoid distracting driving.