The defense (DEF) readiness condition (CON) is an alert state used by the United States Armed Forces. DEFCON 5 is the condition denoting normal readiness, going up to DEFCON 1 which signifies maximum readiness.
Similarly, driver training in Europe emphasizes always having a high state of readiness. I passed my driving test in the UK for both motorcycles and cars and have ridden mopeds and motorcycles since I was 16 years old (the UK tests are among the toughest in the world). Expecting the unexpected is my driving life mantra.
In the last year or two, the U.S. driving situation has drastically changed for the worse. We all understand; drivers using smartphones are having a huge negative impact on U.S. road safety. The U.S. hit 200 million smartphones in use by the end of 2014 and since then we have fallen off of a traffic safety cliff.
Fatalities were up over 7% in 2015 and up again more than 10% in 2016. Both these increases add up to the largest two year increase we have seen since before World War 2. The U.S. has increased from around 32,000 fatalities and 3 million injuries in 2014, to around 40,000 fatalities and 4.5 million injuries in 2016.
I have spoken many times about how simple the U.S. driving test is when compared to other industrialized countries; this is a huge part of our problem. We also now have smartphones being looked at, manipulated and spoken to by almost every driver.
The U.S. traffic fatality increases over the last two years cannot be wished away. I have drastically changed the way I drive to compensate for the incredible mess I see on our roads. I have raised my driving readiness level to what I refer to as traffic safety level DEFCON 1; here are some examples.
Driving at traffic safety level DEFCON 1 means I am even more aware and ready for every vehicle behind, in front, at my side, turning or coming towards me to do the wrong thing. I have to believe every driver is manipulating their smartphone, or is drunk, drugged, half asleep or even a combination. I have no belief anymore that even one vehicle is going to do the right thing and that is how I stay safe.
If I am moving and there is another lane of stationary traffic next to me, I now pass these vehicles even more carefully, fully expecting one of them to suddenly pull into my lane with no signal and no warning.
I notice many drivers in the U.S. fail to use turn signals these days. Distracted drivers certainly don’t use them often enough. This means I leave even more room between my vehicle and the one in front of me, since I assume the vehicle in front may stop for no reason, turn left, right, or just sit there. Drivers need to be ready for anything, at all times.
Traffic light intersections are also dangerous due to distracted red light runners. Responsible, aware drivers use their eyes to constantly scan for danger, which is especially important around traffic light intersections. I used to use logic to “see” red light runners. I would look for them mostly before moving, after receiving a green light, but that’s no longer the case. These days, red light runners are blowing through intersections at any time because they are so distracted they don’t even see the intersection, never mind the red light. It’s almost unbelievable what we see on traffic signal intersection camera footage. Please understand; there are over 4,000 fatalities and hundreds of thousands of injuries a year caused by red light runners.
I could give many more examples of what traffic safety DEFCON 1 means to my driving. If anyone has questions, feel free to contact me through www.trafficsafetyeducationfoundation.org.
We all need to raise our driving awareness and readiness levels. We have to see distracted drivers before they get into our driving space. There are more distracted drivers on our roads than ever before and conditions are getting worse every day. Please don’t forget, the fatality and injury increases over the last two years are the highest in decades.
We all need to work together to have any chance of turning this tragic traffic safety situation around.