Page 1

Survive the Drive A Guide to Keeping Everyone on the Road Alive

by Thomas A. Dingus, Ph.D., CHFP and Mindy Buchanan-King with original illustrations by Tim Mullins

Driving is risky business: It is the leading cause of death for those between the ages of 4 and 34. Only death from cancer, heart attacks, and strokes rank higher. Unlike cancer, heart attacks, and strokes, driving does not discriminate by age. More than 30,000 deaths and 2.2 million emergency room visits occur each year from crashes on U.S. highways alone. Many of these victims are teenagers or young adults*. Just look online for a sobering reminder of the risks drivers face, from injuries per day (6,454 in 2012) to the annual fatal crash rate due to alcohol-impaired driving (8,364 in 2012).** Crashes happen. Even if you do everything right, you may get in a crash through no fault of your own. If someone crashes into you, you should have the knowledge necessary to make sure you have done everything you can to not only survive, but to walk away. This is a sneak peek into a book written to keep you safe amongst the hurtling metal objects of unusual size and speed traveling the roadways. The book will ultimately include information about the risks associated with scenarios ranging from driver distraction, to fatigue and drowsiness, to off-road collisions. It will present a range of safety-related information, from picking the right vehicle, to driving as an older adult, to riding a motorcycle and getting home in one piece. The advice presented is based on more than 30 years of driving safety work by Dr. Thomas A. Dingus. Dr. Dingus is director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), a leader in transportation safety research, the pioneer of naturalistic driving data, and home to the largest group of driving safety researchers in the world. There are sobering facts (teens are three times more likely to get into a fatal crash) and life stories. There are hard stats and colorful analogies, all representing the life of one person who has dedicated his career to saving lives on the road. * **

An excerpt from

Be a Helicopter Parent . . . for This! (If You Are a Teen, Enjoy the Breeze!)

Newly licensed teen drivers are three times more likely to get into a fatal crash than their adult counterparts. That is a huge, scary, and very sad statistic. In fact, teens are more likely to die in a car crash than they are to die due to ALL other sources of accidental injury and disease COMBINED. There are few teens these days who have not been touched by a crash, either directly or indirectly. Most know a friend, acquaintance, or classmate who has been killed in a car wreck. If you are a teen driver, pay attention. If you are a parent/guardian of a teen driver, pay even closer attention, because this is reality. When it comes to driving, your life can change completely (or end) in one second. Leave Tokyo drifting for the movies and Grand Theft Auto for the basement. A friend and colleague, Bruce Simons-Morton, has been studying teens and health for many years while working for the National Institutes of Health. About 10 years ago, I met Bruce because he realized that the biggest risk to teens is driving and that he needed more data about the topic. I knew that VTTI needed to focus more of its work on the riskiest driving group: Newly licensed teens. We have now performed several studies together with our VTTI and National Institutes of Health colleagues. Along the way, we have discovered a number of interesting findings about teen drivers. One of the most important discoveries made is that most teens essentially know how to handle a vehicle and know how to drive safely; they just often choose not to drive safely. This is important because it sheds light on the debate about whether teens need more or better driver education/training or whether teens need more supervision, age, and maturity before they can drive. More and better training is always going to be important, but the critical issue relative to teen driving risk appears to be the latter.

Two examples illustrate this point. VTTI did a naturalistic driving study during which we instrumented the cars of 42 newly licensed teens (they all volunteered for the study) for 18 months with unobtrusive cameras and sensors that gather real-world driving information. One of the analyses we performed sought to characterize errors that teens make while merging in traffic. In general, we found that teens make the same number or fewer errors than adults. In other words, they know and follow the rules, such as using turn signals, matching speed, and checking blind spots, at least as well as adults. Therefore, teens know how to successfully complete this complex maneuver.

Risky driving behaviors (swerves, sudden braking, fast accelerations, speeding)/100 miles IRs for g-force rates/ 100 miles

The second example is illustrated in the figure below. We measured many factors about what teens do when they drive, including braking hard, swerving, speeding, and “hitting the gas.� We call these collective factors risky vehicle-based driving behaviors. As shown, adults in our study engaged in these behaviors about four to five times less frequently than the teens . . . except when teens had an adult in the car, during which time teens exhibited risky driving behaviors at about the same rate as the adults.

From Simons-Morton et al. (2011). The Effect of Passengers and Risk-Taking Friends on Risky Driving and Crashes/Near Crashes among Novice Teenagers. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(6), 587-593.

8.00 7.00 6.00 5.00

Parent driver

4.00 Teen driver with no passengers


Teen driver with adult passengers

2.00 1.00 0.00


2 3 4 5 Time since licensure (3-month time periods)


This finding was consistent for other types of driving behaviors, such as driving while distracted. In other words, the teens drove like adults when they were supervised, but they drove like a creature from another planet when adults were not present. This led us to the conclusion that: Teen drivers pretty much know how to drive safely, they just choose not to. As a father who went through the process of teaching two teens how to drive and avoid the pitfalls of the road, I know this is a harrowing adventure. There is no greater challenge than trying to keep your teen safe on the road. So, how do you do it? How do you effectively teach a teen to be a responsible driver? Survive the Drive will include the information you need to know to reduce the increased risks faced by teen drivers, including picking the right vehicle, enacting the best training methods, and establishing teen driving contracts. The book will outline the biggest risks teen drivers face today, including distraction and alcohol use. The goal is to change the “three times� statistic and get more teens back home safely, and it’s a goal we can realistically meet.

Saving “Man’s Best Friend” and Your Toolbox While Saving Yourself * (An excerpt about crashworthiness; riding with heavy, loose objects; and the importance of seat belts)

*No animals were harmed in the making of this story.

Crashes can be exceptionally violent events with tremendous accelerations and forces applied in virtually any direction. However, the good news is that you have seat belts. This can’t be stressed enough: Make sure you and everyone in the car are wearing seat belts. Seat belts are there to keep you from being thrown uncontrollably around the cab; there are few worse projectiles in a car than mammals of large size. Which brings us to our friends who don’t typically wear seat belts: our dogs. I was riding along with my friend, Mark, on our way to a skiing trip in Colorado. The road was icy and my brakes were not working so well in my old ‘66 Baja Beetle (pretty spongy). However, being undaunted and 20 years old, we pressed ahead through the snow in search of slopes. Our skis were bungee-corded relatively securely to a roof rack on top. My Malamute, Wolf, was riding along with us in the back seat. Wolf was a BIG DOG. As we were traveling along, the car in front of us stopped suddenly, and we slammed into it. Even with no shoulder belt (that particular car model only had lap belts), I would have been able to keep my face from hitting the steering wheel except for—you guessed it—Wolf slamming into the back of my seat. The driver seat had no seatback lock lever or head rest, which meant I slammed my face into the steering wheel anyway. If that wasn’t bad enough, Wolf came over the top of the seat and landed on top of me, creating (luckily) only a few bruises and cuts. He also popped out the front windshield, which made for a very cold ride home. To add insult to (literally) injury, Wolf, although relatively unscathed, was very scared and proceeded to pee all over Mark and me while he struggled to find his footing. And, even though the Baja had a fiberglass front and was lightweight, thus causing minimal damage to the car in front, our roof rack broke loose and slid up and over the car in front. Unfortunately, the roof rack and sharp edges from the skis peeled paint off that car from the trunk to the hood.

The moral of the story is this: Think of your pets, and anything else heavy in your car, as a potential projectile heading straight for you—or rolling around with you—in a crash. There are a variety of products available to belt your dog in the back seat, or dividers that separate you from your pet. It’s better for them, and it’s better for you. And keep your gold bars or dumbbells (or sledge hammers, chainsaws, and toolboxes) in the trunk!

The official release of Survive the Drive will be announced on Check the website often for more information. You may also find us on Facebook (keyword: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute) and Twitter (@vttinews). For questions regarding the book, please contact Mindy Buchanan-King at

Survive the Drive: A Guide to Keeping Everyone on the Road Alive  

This is a sneak peek into a book written to keep you safe amongst the hurtling metal objects of unusual size and speed traveling the roadway...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you