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Changing long-held perceptions surrounding motor vehicle safety

On the Department of Transportation’s website, a statistic has been featured for several years, citing 94 percent of serious motor vehicle collisions nationally resulted from driver error. In response to that alarming number, initiatives continue to improve the safety features in automobiles, and the roads drivers and passengers travel on throughout the United States.

A misleading factoid

Jennifer Homendy is the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board and would have keen insight into that specific statistic. She is surprised to see it still in use, most recently by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg a month ago in correspondence to motor vehicle safety groups.

Homendy and multiple auto safety advocates want any and all references to be scrubbed from the page immediately, claiming the number is misleading, if not dangerous, and used as an excuse for an alarming rise in accidents.

The origin of the controversial factoid started in a 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) memo claiming that “the critical reason, which is the last event in the crash causal chain, was assigned to the driver in 94% of the crashes.” The DOT website fails to note that these mistakes should not be interpreted as the cause of crashes, with other factors playing a role.

DOT detractors also claim that the “finding” passes the buck when it comes to the actual steps necessary to improve road safety. With 40,000 people dying every year in traffic accidents, the problem is beyond operator mistakes. Improvements in road safety should be the top priority, particularly in a culture that currently and unilaterally accepts a misleading number.

Recently backing up Homendy’s claim is the NHTSA, which announced that the website would be updated further elaborate on their data and provide additional information.