[flickr]photo:6542377139[/flickr]

This photo of a damaged car has little to do with this post. 

Then my friend Alex E. asked, “Is there a reason why?”

I can’t leave such a question hanging. I thought I read that somewhere, and it was probably in Tom Vanderbilt’s book, Traffic. What I found in there mostly referred to trucks (the semi-trailer type) because of their mass and how people not driving trucks behave around them on the road. The second part explained the statistics around who lives and dies in crashes involving a drunk driver.

Knowing that, and knowing the story I tweeted a link to, you’ll see that the event didn’t involve a truck and my relating them was perhaps unsuitable. It did involve drunk driving, but I may have misread the book text.

Here’s what Traffic says about trucks

“When trucks and cars collide, nearly nine of ten times it’s the truck driver who walks away alive.” Vanderbilt discusses how that is (page 247).

…we all likely have proof of the dangerous nature of trucks. We have seen cars crumpled on the roadside. We’ve heard news stories of truck drivers, wired on stimulants, forced to drive the deregulated trucking industry’s increasingly long shifts. We can easily recall being tailgated or cut off by some crazy trucker.

Just one thing complicates this image of trucks as the biggest hazard on the road today: In most cases, when cars and trucks collide, the car bears the greater share of what are called “contributory factors”.

Really? Car drivers caused crashes with trucks and then die from it?

Instead of relying on drivers’ accounts, he [Daniel Blower at Michigan Transport Research Institute] looked at “unmistakable” physical evidence. “In certain crash types like head-ons, the vehicle that crosses the center much more likely contributed to the crash than the vehicle that didn’t cross the center line”.

After examining more than five thousand fatal truck-car crashes, Blower found that in 70 percent of cases, the driver of the car had the sole contributing responsibility in the crash.

Basically, the car drivers in a car-truck crash caused the crash and ended up being the ones dying.

…the reason trucks are dangerous seems to have more to do with the action sof car drivers combined with the physcial characteristics of trucks and less to do with the actions of truck drivers. “The caricature that we have that the highways are thronged with fatigued, drug-addled truck drivers is, I think, just wrong”, Blower said.

“In a light vehicle, you are correct to be afraid of them, but its not because the drivers are disproportionately aggressive or bad drivers”, Blower said. “It’s because of physics, truck design, the different performance characteristics. You can make a mistake around a Geo Metro and live to tell about it. You make that same mistake around a truck and you could easily be dead.”

What Traffic says about drunk driving

Of the 11,000 drunk-driving fatalities studied by economists Steven D. Levitt and Jack Porter, 72% were the crash-causing drunk driver or their passengers, and 28% were the other drivers (most of whom were not drunk themselves) (page 251).