For a few years now, traffic safety experts have warned of the dangers of “The 100 Deadliest Days,” the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day believed to be the most dangerous time of the year for teen drivers, many of whom are fresh out of high school and experiencing unsupervised driving for the first time.
Data backs that up, at least to a point. In 2020 in North Carolina, more than 30 teens died in road incidents, and more than 12,000 were involved in crashes.
In some ways, driving is easier for teens these days than it was a generation or two ago. Automotive safety technology has made vast leaps, and road safety design has generally improved, with rumble strips, better signage and a proliferation of guard rails.
But at the end of the day, driving still means you’re sitting on a half-ton or more of metal going at speeds of 60 or better in many areas, and that is a formula for trouble for unwary, inattentive and novice drivers.
The dangers of the road and the need for situation awareness certainly need to be drilled into the heads of teen drivers.
However, it looks like the road is getting more dangerous for all of us, not just teens.
Data from the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program shows last year was the deadliest ever on state roads and highways, with accidents claiming the lives of 1,755 people, up from the record of 1,705 set in 2007. The grim tally was up about 5 percent from the previous year and nearly 18 percent from the rolling five-year average compiled by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
The biggest jump in fatal crashes occurred involving collisions where one or more drivers was 65 years of age or older, jumping 36 percent from 2020.
The numbers improved a bit when it came to fatalities in work zones and involving pedestrians and cyclists. The numbers were worse in accidents involving speeding, distracted driving and drivers and passengers not wearing seat belts.
Jackson’s roads are definitely safer than the madhouse urban interstate belts in the state’s major cities, but offer their own unique hazards – curvy roads, tourists unfamiliar with the area and drivers unaccustomed to mountain terrain.
One unifying factor on the hazard front is the distraction issue. While technology has made cars safer, it also dishes up myriad beeps and whistles in the form of phone calls and notifications, momentary distractions in situations where a moment is all it takes to define the difference between a pleasant trip and a visit to the hospital – or morgue.
So the 100 Deadliest Days are upon us.
A little extra caution is needed this time of year.
And it pays to remember year-round that for the majority of us, getting behind the wheel remains the most dangerous thing we’ll do in our lives.
For a map of fatal and serious injury crashes that have occurred on public roadways in North Carolina, including Jackson County, from 2012-2021, go to https://ncdot.maps.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=9a25021dbe91427a92f2eca57bd71ee2.