When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s statistics on driver death rates by vehicle were released in the spring, much was made about the cars in the top spots. Small models like the tiny Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, and Ford Fiesta hatchbacks tend to make it onto the high-driver-fatalities list.
But 11 vehicles had zero driver deaths between 2012 and 2015: Audi A6; Audi Q7; BMW 535i; BMW 535xi; Jeep Cherokee; Lexus CT200h; Lexus RX350; Mazda CX-9; Mercedes-Benz M-Class; Toyota Tacoma Double Cab Long Bed; and Volkswagen Tiguan.
Take out the behemoth SUVs and one largish pickup, and you’re left with what? Audi A6, Audi Q7, BMW 535i, BMW 535xi, Lexus CT200h, and Volkswagen Tiguan.
Cars that, in my estimation, are driven by people who care about cars and driving.
And the BMWs and Audis definitely stand out because of their drivers’ reputations for ambitious (some would say jerky) maneuvers — conventional wisdom backed up by actual research. (Disclaimer: I have never owned, and probably never will own, any of those vehicles. But I drive enough of them, so, go ahead, call me a jerk.)
Why, then, weren’t Audi and BMW drivers splattered on the sides of the interstates?
Mr. Driver’s Seat says: These vehicles are low in driver-death rates because of skill, interest, and attention to task. If we could instill that interest in more drivers, perhaps skill would follow, and we’d all be safer.
Too many people see driving as a chore, as something they just have to do. They’d rather be anywhere else and, like college students during my English grammar lessons, they turn on their phones or get lost in their daydreams or conversations.
BMW, for its part, cited its accident-avoidance technology, passenger protection during and after a crash, and crash-notification systems. A spokesman also noted its training programs, from BMW Teen School all the way up to an Advanced M School, which have trained a total of 100,000 participants per year globally, about 15,000 in the U.S.
Audi never responded to requests for comment.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety thinks I’m nuts, of course.
“We see no evidence in the insurance-claim data that BMW drivers are more skillful,” said Russ Rader, senior vice president, communications, for IIHS.
But they’re insurers, they have to say that. My insurance agent would be happier if I got rid of my dogs, so I don’t trust the lot of them.
Still, the numbers show outliers, and I think I’ve landed on an explanation: The United States needs to make driving important and worth learning about. Driver’s education in schools and required periodic training would go a long way to making the roads safer for everybody.
Sure, I’m adding to everyone’s costs, both in finances and in time. But think of it as an investment.
The IIHS is not behind me here, either.
“There isn’t any evidence that driver training reduces crashes; teens who take driver training are not less likely to crash,” Rader said. The institute also is concerned about testing that allows younger drivers more freedom than they might otherwise have.
Which is why I’m not suggesting just driver’s education for young people — keep those youngsters at home on their phones. I’m calling for periodic reviews of all our driving skills, mine included.
In researching all this, I learned that Louisiana is the only state that requires everyone of every age to receive formal training to obtain a driver’s license.
Gwen Dunware, administrator for the Office of Motor Vehicles of Louisiana, said that the Pelican State expanded formal driver training for all – including classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction – in 2012.
“We have a reduction in the number of fatalities and injuries, so we’re working very hard,” Dunware said.
I’m not going to say the data back that up strongly — the numbers I received from Dunware showed no great change. (Read the report at http://datareports.lsu.edu/CrashReportIndex.aspx).
I’d go one further, though: Give drivers five-year, or 10-year, reviews. Let’s show Louisiana a thing or two.
A trip around the block: Furthermore, beyond training, make drivers pass real tests.
Sturgis Kid 4.0 recently went from learner’s permit to junior driver’s license. As an attentive Mr. Driver’s Seat, I made sure he spent more than the required hours learning different skills in all kinds of conditions. When he made mistakes, we went over the lessons learned clearly and repeatedly.
Come test day, however, he pretty much parallel-parked and drove around the block.
Now, perhaps BMW and Audi drivers are not ones to emulate. But factoring in that they’re performing more elaborate and risky moves of derring-do around the rest of us, one would expect to find their vehicles up there in the high end of driver deaths.
So let’s commit to training ourselves better at the one thing almost all of us face daily. As U.S. traffic deaths and injuries have started to tick back up, it’s past time to try real training as a way to bring those numbers down again.
For those interested in getting driver training for their teens, a few programs are coming through the region.
• Tire Rack Street Survival Teen Driving School: Sept. 9, Oxford Valley Mall, Langhorne; Sept. 24, Montgomery County Community College, Blue Bell. Information: streetsurvival.org
• B.R.A.K.E.S. Teen Pro-Active Driving School: Oct. 7 and 8, Manheim Auto Auction, Manheim, Pa. Information: putonthebrakes.org