The 2009 traffic fatalities statistics will not be out until the middle of 2010. These are issued by FARS, Fatality Analysis Reporting System, of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So please allow me to review some of the statistics from 2008.

The total traffic fatalities in the United States during 2008 were 37,261 which was a reduction of 3,998 over the previous year. This represents the lowest traffic deaths in the past 15 years. Each year over that same 15 year period the fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled has dropped from 1.73 to 1.27.

The only category that showed a significant rise in fatalities was motorcyclists.

The top link at the Blogroll on right in this blog gets you to these statistics.

I speculate that there are 2 major reasons for the overall reductions. The first is that cars are safer. More people are driving newer and safer cars and more occupants are using their seatbelts. The second reason is that the drunk-driving laws are being more heavily enforced.

Be safe out there. If you have not taken a defensive driving course in some time (5-10 years) find one and take it. Senior Citizen centers offer them, often for free or a very low price. You can always learn something at one of these courses. About 2 years ago I took the one offered at my local Senior Citizen center. It was a great refresher for me. I did make a couple changes in my habits because of what I learned in the course.

Did I say: Be safe out there? If you think the other driver will do something stupid to put you in jeopardy, he or she probably will. Not every time, but often enough to be a potential crash.

Here is a little driving safety info from someone who drove about 1,000,000 miles over the nation’s highways in a big-rig, a tractor and trailer. That person is of course me. This Hazard Meter is a little device I created for me to use to keep me focused on my job, the safety part of it.

I’ll use examples from my driving experience, but the idea of the meter could be applied to just about any endeavor including piloting a large aircraft.

Every endeavor has a degree of hazard attached to it. Envision an analog meter here. When the arrow is to the left there is a higher hazard, a higher risk of an accident. When the arrow is to the right, the hazard is less. Say someone is driving a vehicle on a street and is approaching an intersection. As the vehicle approaches the intersection the arrow on the meter moves to the left. Intersections are high hazard areas under the best of conditions.

This is when the driver must counteract the left leaning tendency of the arrow (no political implications here). The driver must heighten his alertness. If there is a signal light at the intersection, how likely is it to turn red before the vehicle reaches it? What are the road conditions? Wet roads means slow up as the vehicle approaches the intersection.

The driver must constantly work to keep the arrow on the meter as far to the right as possible. No one can ever completely eliminate the hazards. The goal is to keep the hazards as low as possible, to keep the arrow leaning to the right.

Sometimes the driver intentionally increases the hazard as a normal part of driving. If you are driving a large, long truck and trailer, passing another vehicle by its nature increases the hazard and moves the arrow to the left. Anytime when a truck is driving with vehicles to its right there is an increased hazard. The driver must do what is necessary to move the arrow to the right. Complete the passing maneuver in a timely manner and move back to the right lane. As soon as this maneuver is completed the arrow automatically moves toward the right.

The two-second rule in driving states that no matter what speeds are being traveled, a driver must always keep a minimum of two seconds traveling time between the front of the driver’s vehicle and the rear of the vehicle ahead. Sometimes events occur that close up that gap. If a car slips in front of you, or someone slows suddenly, the driver must immediately act to regain that two second distance.

The “Never Do!” is just what it states. Never drive drunk. Never drive at excessive speeds. Never drive aggressively. Really this is mostly common sense stuff. The “Always Do!” is mostly opposites of the “Never Do!”

Here is an example I can conger up that applies to flying an aircraft. After you get pushed back from the loading ramp and start moving forward, the meter immediately moves to the left. What can you do to keep it on the right side? Be alert. Listen to the traffic director’s broadcasts. You may have to cross an active runway. The meter jumps to the left! Make sure you are not distracted. Make sure the runway is clear. Proceed only when properly directed to do so and you are satisfied that the meter is leaning to the right.

When you get to your hold spot just before turning onto the runway, the meter is idling to the right. As soon as you turn onto the take-off position, the meter is pushing to the left. You can’t push it all the way to the right because you know as well as most people that take-offs and landings are the most hazardous times of flight. Do what is necessary to keep the arrow leaning to the right. Once safely in the air the pressure on the arrow eases and leans comfortably to the right.

Opps! The “battery power only” indicator comes on. The meter slams to the left. If you know your procedures for this event, put them in play and move the arrow to the right. You have always wanted to visit La Crosse, Wisconsin. Now is your chance. You quickly determine that it’s an 8,500 ft runway. Safe for your Boeing 757. The weather’s great and down you go (in a controlled manner, of course).

The key to the Brandt Hazard Meter is a person being able to almost instinctively sense when the hazards are increasing, and then to know how to react. May I say that again? The key is for the person in control to be able to first sense the position of the arrow on the meter, the directional pressure on it, and then be able to correctly react to move the arrow to the right.

I’ve never written this out before, but I have always consciously used it while driving large trucks and even today in my little Toyota. I know that I am a very safe driver, but if I rest on that idea, that causes left leaning pressure. If I find myself less alert than I should be, I sense the left pressure and “wake up” to increase my alertness.

Drive safely out there. Keep alert. Know what the hazards are. Don’t follow closer that those 2 seconds no matter what. If you click on the top link on my Blog Roll on the right, you will see the results of not paying attention to the hazards. Driving a vehicle can be hazardous under the best of conditions, but when you don’t know what the hazards are, it can become down right dangerous.