Eight hours after interviewing an auto insurance company exec about safer driving, I was whizzing along the San Bernardino Freeway when a light truck decided to join me in the lane I was occupying. I swerved, finding just enough space to avoid him on the right and the K-rail on the left.
“Idiot!” I whisper-shrieked.
Sixteen hours after interviewing that exec, I swerved ever so slightly around a big SUV whose bumper was in my city-street lane. I realized I was now hard upon a pedestrian crosswalk whose lucky occupant was still on the other side of the street.
“Idiot!” I whispered to myself — about myself.
My driving experiences highlight two great truths of the road:
►All of us think we are better drivers than we are.
►Los Angeles drivers stink.
I include myself in both condemnations. These faults matter because we are a car culture, but they matter even more for travelers because driving trips are the most popular vacation/transportation, especially for families.
Look at the stats from AAA on the Fourth of July holiday: Of the 47 million people who were traveling, 40 million were making a car trip. (A trip is more than 50 miles, AAA said.)
In 2014, 32,719 people were killed and 2.3 million people were injured in automobile accidents, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
It isn’t just other people who are the problem; we are too.
On the AllState list of 200 cities with the best and worst drivers, L.A. finished — wait for it — at 194. It wasn’t the worst California city, either: Neighboring Glendale was ranked at 196. Neither was as bad as No. 200, which is Baltimore, but none was even close to being as good as Brownsville, Texas, which was No. 1 in safety.
AllState uses length of time between collision claims as its gauge of safety. Angelenos make a claim once every 5½ years. The national average is 10 years. The figure for star pupil Brownsville is every 13.6 years.
Yes, but isn’t it those other people — you know, like the dim bulb in the pickup truck — who are the problem?
“I believe it is human behavior that makes people think they are better than average,” said Ken Rosen, executive vice president chief claims officer at AllState.
Need proof you’re not as good as you think you are? That’s where AllState’s Drivewise app comes in.
You don’t have to be an AllState customer (I am not) to use this app, which is available for iOS and Android. You may be offered a chance to become a customer, but ignore that for now and download the app, which tracks speed, hours you’re on the road and sudden stops to tell you how you’re doing.
In the name of research, I put aside concerns about giving anyone information about my driving habits (and was later assured my data isn’t shared nor is it used to calculate premiums).
Here’s what it told me about my 664 miles of driving, which is about 2½ weeks of commuting and doing errands:
►Instances of driving more than 80 mph: Zero. I had to laugh; I’m a rush-hour commuter, and I’m lucky to be going 18 mph, but given the chance to go fast, I would.
The Drivewise app noted, in its explanation for why speed matters, that not only does speed kill, it also limits “the amount of time drivers have to react to unexpected circumstances.” Cruise control, it noted, is your friend, and your willingness not to keep up with the flow of traffic could be helpful.
►Time of day: I did significantly worse on this one. I didn’t have any instances of being out after 11 p.m. or before 4 a.m. on weekdays or 5 a.m. on weekends. But 40% of my driving was at times of moderate risk, which it defines as noon to 11 p.m., and that includes my commute home. Another 40% was low risk (4 a.m. to noon, my commute to work), and 20% was lowest risk (5 a.m.-11 p.m. on weekends).
There’s little I can do about this except be aware that the drive home is more dangerous than the drive to work. The riskier time of day matters, the app notes, because, among other things, fatigue can be an important factor in driving.
►Hard braking. AllState describes this as “slowing down 8 mph or more over a one-second period.” In 2½ weeks, I had eight such events. If all things were equal, in 1,000 miles, I would have had 12 such events; the average driver has 19, AllState said.
OK, clearly I am better than average. Perhaps. But if you’re going only 18 mph and you have to brake hard, something is wrong. And, as the app reminds us, having to brake hard isn’t just about the jerk who veers in front of you; it’s about driving aggressively, tailgating and distracted driving.
AllState doesn’t yet measure distracted driving. “The behaviors that we monitor through the app were all selected because they are indicative of risk,” said Ginger Purgatorio, vice president of product transformation for AllState. These behaviors, she noted, are easier to measure.
In the future, she noted, distracted driving may become part of the app’s calculations of how well you’re doing. That’s particularly important in light of these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Nine people die and 1,000 are injured every day because of distracted driving, it said, citing figures from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis. That’s more than 3,000 people killed and 365,000 injured in a year.
You can take a brush-up driving course or monitor your driving through the app or with honest feedback from a passenger or partner. You can promise yourself to curb your tendency to speed, as one of my friends recently confessed she had.
None of it makes one iota of difference unless you’re willing to commit to keeping yourself safe. Some things are out of our control, and you can’t control other drivers. But you can drive defensively and consider what behaviors put you at risk.
There are so many places to see, and fantastic travel memories may well be just down the road.