The data is in, and the results are not good. For the first time in almost a decade, the National Safety Council estimates that fatalities from motor vehicle crashes exceeded 40,000 people in 2016. That is up 6% from 2015 and 14% from 2014, the highest two-year jump in 53 years.
Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of the states where the number of motor vehicle deaths exceeded 1,000 last year, which is a 19% increase from 2014 levels.
DTE Energy has a fleet of over 3,500 vehicles that drive over 34 million miles each year, putting safe driving practices front and center for people like senior safety and health engineer Heather Tuzinowski. I spent a few minutes diving into those numbers with Tuzinowski, why the number of fatalities is rising and what you can do to stay safe on your daily drive.
Full podcast transcript here:
Dave Lingholm: [00:04] Welcome to the Empowering Michigan podcast. I am your host, Dave Lingholm.
[00:09] The state of Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of the few states to record more than 1,000 motor vehicle fatalities in 2016. Unfortunately, that’s a trend line that continues to grow in our state.
[00:23] Today I’m joined by Heather Tuzinowski, senior safety and health engineer for DTE Energy, to talk more about what has caused those numbers to go up and what you can do personally to be a safer driver. Thanks for joining me today, Heather.
Heather Tuzinowski: [00:37] Hi, Dave. Thanks for having me. This is a very important topic I’m very passionate about, and I appreciate your time today.
Dave: [00:45] I know DTE has so many vehicles on the road that there’s a good reason why you’re very passionate about that. I’d like to start off with the same survey that showed Michigan had over 1,000 vehicle fatalities last year. It showed that nationally, that number’s over 40,000. That’s a number that keeps growing.
[01:09] It’s the first time it’s reached that number in over 10 years. What are some of the factors that have contributed to so many vehicle fatalities?
Heather: [01:18] Yes, Dave. Due to the economic recovery, lower gas prices, people are now driving more. A couple factors contributing to traffic deaths include speed, alcohol, seatbelts and driver distraction, and our society’s addiction to electronic devices, are likely playing a role in this increase.
Dave: [01:37] Distracted driving. Let’s get into that a little bit more. I know a lot of people think about that and they’re thinking about changing. It’s coming from maybe texting a friend or trying to change a song on your iPhone or something like that. But I’m sure there’s a lot more to distracted driving than just those two factors.
Heather: [01:57] Yeah. In addition to that, any time you’re grooming, fixing your makeup, eating, taking a sip of your McDonald’s coffee, picking up things off the floor, looking in the mirror. Anything that’s distracting you, diverting your attention from paying attention to the road and your surroundings, is considered distracted driving.
Dave: [02:19] That’s really interesting. Probably one of your big tips is to just pay a lot more attention to the road than everything else around you.
Heather: [02:27] Yeah. I usually tell people, plan your route ahead of time before operating your vehicle. Make sure you check the traffic. Make sure you set your GPS devices prior to leaving. Make sure you set any climate controls, play with the radio, prior to leaving so you can solely focus on the road. Store away any loose items.
[02:48] Put your phone away. Obviously, you can use it for navigation devices if it’s audible. Those are the things I try to remind people.
Dave: [02:57] Those are some really good tips. Another thing that’s actually really risky and might not cause a lot of fatalities but certainly causes a lot of accident, are when you’re backing out of a parking spot. I’ve taken a few driving courses, and that’s one thing that’s always brought up in those. Why is that? Why is that such a big cause of accidents for people?
Heather: [03:22] Parking and backing up typically cause a lot of accidents because it’s something that we do every day. We’re very complacent. We get in our vehicles and we just want to go. We’re trying to get from work to home, home to work, things like that, so we’re not paying attention to our blind spots, what’s behind us, what’s in front of us, and what could potentially become a hazard.
Dave: [03:43] How can people back out more safely, then?
Heather: [03:47] I always recommend a 360 walk‑around. Walk around your vehicle prior to getting in it. Check for any limitation, any hazards, obstructions, including pedestrians, animals, children, muddy areas, potholes, things like that.
[04:04] Get to know your vehicle’s blind spots. In a medium‑sized truck, on average, blind spots can extend up to 16 feet in the front and about 160 feet in the back. You need to remember that your mirrors can never give you the whole picture while backing.
[04:19] Also, don’t rely on your backing cameras or sensors. Think in advance, park defensively, try to always pull through, and avoid backing when possible.
Dave: [04:31] I imagine those same rules, especially, probably it’s more important to pay attention to those when you’re driving somebody else’s car, like your spouse’s car or your kid’s car or even a work vehicle. You have to keep those same things in mind, but probably a little bit more so, just because it’s a car that you’re not familiar with.
Heather: [04:52] Yeah. Adapting to your vehicle is very important. I know you’ll drive your friends’ vehicles, your spouse’s vehicles, or even vehicles provided to you at work. It’s important to know the clearances, get familiar with the blind spots, reset the mirrors, get familiar with the lighting, the wipers, the heating, cooling, any signal controls.
[05:17] Look under the vehicle prior to operating it. Most importantly, know the vehicle’s dimensions.
Dave: [05:24] One last question for wrapping up here. What’s a safe speed? Especially this time of year, the roads can be a little icy, maybe a little snowy, certainly wet. What’s a safe driving speed? How closely should we be following or staying away from other vehicles?
Heather: [05:48] Under ideal conditions, the three‑second rule can help drivers determine the proper following distance at any speed. The worse the conditions are, the more stopping distance you’ll need. That’s why it’s important to maintain a safe following distance of three seconds under ideal conditions, increasing to four seconds on rainy days and seven to eight seconds on icy roads or snowy roads.
Dave: [06:11] That’s hard for me to visualize, and I’m sure it is for a lot of other people. How do you determine what that following distance should be?
Heather: [06:20] It’s actually pretty simple. To determine the right following distance, first select a fixed object on the road ahead, such as a sign, tree, or even an overpass. When the vehicle ahead of you passes that object, slowly count one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi. If you reach the object before completing the count recommended for your road conditions, you’re following too closely.
Dave: [06:45] Thanks a ton for your time today, Heather. That was some really good information, and I’m glad that we could share it with everybody.
[06:51] Thanks, everyone, for listening today. To keep up with news and information from DTE Energy, you can always find us on Twitter at @dte_energy, by searching for DTE Energy on Facebook, or continue reading our blog, empoweringmichigan.com. Stay energized, Michigan.
Transcription by CastingWords