Risky Business

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You grab your car keys, head out the door, and drive to your destination. It may be you’re going to work, maybe school, or perhaps you’re taking a vacation. This driving business seems like a pretty mundane, everyday task, doesn’t it? Nearly all of us do it, or will do it soon enough. There are more than 210 million drivers in the U.S. alone. Many of us think nothing about just getting in the car and going.

But driving is full of risks. And those risks are changing as the needs of society evolve, from new cellular technology to the latest in-vehicle accessories. The thing is, many drivers are unaware of the risks they face every day on the road, the types of risks that can lead to crashes resulting in injuries or even fatalities.

I’ve spent more than 30 years analyzing human risks, working with numerous colleagues in the field—in the real world—to figure out why people crash and what drivers can do to lessen the severity of crashes. My colleagues and I at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) have published hundreds of technical reports and journal articles about our findings, many written in collaboration with our friends from the National Institutes of Health, AAA, NHTSA, FMCSA, FHWA, etc. We work with federal agencies, auto manufacturers, and government officials on all levels to help create policies that make a positive impact on the safety of the transportation community. We talk with media as we can (some of our research is proprietary, some is limited to contractual stipulations, etc.), trying to spread the word about the dangers you face as a driver. We work diligently to give you the facts, the hard evidence we’ve collected and analyzed.

But, ultimately, those facts can get lost in the abyss of Internet searches. Misinformation and misunderstanding about our analyses crop up, and the original intent of our work gets muddied. Driving is a complex thing, and that complexity gets lost in translation.

That’s why I wrote a book: Survive the Drive: A Guide to Keeping Everyone on the Road Alive. A “teaser” of the book is available online now. The pictures in this post are a behind-the-scenes look at the images that will be used to promo the full book, and while they may be a bit exaggerated, they aren’t too far off base: you face multiple risks every time you get in your car. Survive the Drive is meant to be a no-nonsense, one-stop reference for what we know about driving risks, from distraction to impairment to the special set of risks faced by teen drivers (they are three times more likely to get into a fatal crash than their adult counterparts). The facts are based on field studies and on the expertise of renowned colleagues who study transportation safety. They are also based on my experience, both career-wise and as a rather rambunctious teen. Anyone who knows me knows I have a story for every occasion, and the book was no less of an opportunity to tell those stories from my past (they do all illustrate points made in the book, so there is a method to my so-called madness).

This has been an interesting project; it has been uncharted territory for a researcher like me. Stripping away to “just the facts” has been a liberation of sorts, as has been preserving some of the more epic driving stories I know. This has been a labor of love. I spent a lot of my winter evenings with this book, so much so that my wife took to calling it my “mistress.” Having the opportunity to put into one book what you need to know to stay safe as a driver has been on my to-do list for a while, and nearing the end of that journey is a good feeling. This book is meant for everyone—mainly adult drivers, yes, but you can hand it off to your friends, to your teen drivers, to senior drivers and the motorcyclists or professional drivers in your life. There is something in the book for all of them.

Those of us in this industry know the risks you face as a driver. We know why a teen driver or an impaired driver is at a greater risk of a crash. We can tell you what your increased odds of a crash are if you speed or drive aggressively. We know how you can avoid most crashes. But that information has never been told to the public in one concise story…until now.

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Survive the Drive is scheduled to be released by the summer (yes, of 2015). Traditional paperback copies, as well as ebook formats, will be available to purchase. Please continue to check online for additional release details as they become available:

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 Photos courtesy of Jean Paul Talledo Vilela

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