HSRC's Impact on NC Drivers
Motor-vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers. A combination of inexperience and the natural impulsiveness of the adolescent years contribute to this increased risk of being involved in a crash.
The UNC Highway Safety Research Center is credited with developing the concept of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL), a licensing system that slowly introduces novices to driving, first allowing them to drive only under the safest conditions. Research conducted by Center in the 1990s contributed directly to the enactment of the North Carolina GDL system, which has served as a national model for other states.
Center research has shown that the GDL system in North Carolina has reduced crashes among 16-year-old drivers by 38 percent since it was enacted in 1997. For 17-year olds, the decrease is 20 percent. Another study conducted by HSRC showed that in the 46 months after North Carolina started GDL, hospitalizations of 16-year-old drivers declined by 36.5 percent and, consequently, hospital costs for these young drivers dropped by 31.2 percent, or $650,000 per year.
The Center also completed a peer-to-peer educational campaign for the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the NC Executive Committee for Highway Safety aimed at raising awareness to the issue of distracted driving among teenagers in the state. Campaign elements included a video and radio public service announcements featuring footage of North Carolina teens sharing their real experiences and giving their thoughts on the dangers of distracted driving.
In the mid 1970s, less than 10 percent of drivers wore their seat belts and even fewer children — about 5 percent — were buckled up in any way in crashes. Recognizing the need for action, HSRC conducted some of the first research studies in occupant protection and child passenger safety (CPS). Through its research and data analysis, HSRC was instrumental in getting both the adult seat belt law and the child passenger safety law passed in North Carolina.
Following the enactment of these laws, HSRC worked with several partnering agencies to develop and implement North Carolina's "Click It or Ticket" program. This ongoing, statewide high visibility enforcement program has increased seat belt use by North Carolina citizens to nearly 90 percent, one of the highest usage rates in the nation. The program has served as a national model for other US states.
HSRC also operates the North Carolina Child Passenger Safety Resource Center. Through an information web site and an in-state toll-free phone line, the Center fields and answers child restraint and safety belt questions for North Carolina citizens, parents and CPS advocates.
The UNC Highway Safety Research Center conducts pedestrian safety training courses across the United States. These trainings are coordinated through the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), a national clearinghouse housed within HSRC. PBIC coordinated a series of workshops for the NC Department of Transportation designed to help state and local officials know where to begin to address pedestrian safety issues when developing a pedestrian safety action plan tailored to the state's needs.
Several policy recommendations that came out of these workshops were presented to the North Carolina Executive Committee for Highway Safety (ECHS), which oversees the development of the Strategic Highway Safety Plan for the state of North Carolina. One of these recommendations was the development of a two-hour curriculum for law enforcement officers on the relevant bike/pedestrian/motorist laws and guidance on how to enforce them. This curriculum is now offered in the 2009 trainings of the North Carolina Justice Academy's Annual In-Service Training for all police, sheriffs and other law enforcement personnel.