JOHN YDSTIE, host:
Looking for a safe drive? Well, you might want to let the wife take the wheel and head into rush-hour traffic in New England. Those are some of the findings in a new research project being presented this week on road fatality risks. It's called Traffic Stats, and it was prepared for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. David Gerard is a member of the faculty in the department of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of the report. He joins us from the studios of member station WDUQ in Pittsburgh. Welcome to the program, Dr. Gerard.
Dr. DAVID GERARD (Carnegie Mellon University): Thank you for having me.
YDSTIE: So after all we've heard about those crazy Boston drivers, is it really safer up there in New England?
Dr. GERARD: Well, our understanding is your chance of getting killed per mile driven or per trip you take is lower in New England than it is in the rest of the country. That doesn't mean you're not at high risk of, say, getting in a fender-bender or running over someone on the street. What we're looking at specifically are fatality risks, and indeed those risks seem significantly lower.
YDSTIE: How did you figure all this out? You've got a raft of statistics and information, some of which goes against the grain in terms of our thinking about highway safety. How did you do this?
Dr. GERARD: Well, fortunately we really didn't have to figure anything out. We have an interdisciplinary collaborative research project between my department and information systems program. And we've taken government data that's been publicly available for years, and we've made it very easy to access in this interactive Web tool.
YDSTIE: So this is available to people, and if they want to figure out what they can do and how they might make their trips safer and their driving safer, they can go to the Web and use this tool.
Dr. GERARD: That's precisely right. We've made it available, and you can plug in your profile and see when you're at risk. It's - you know, as you dig deeper, the estimate's probably not as accurate, but in general, you know, time of day, month of the year, you can really get some pretty good estimates of what your fatality risks are.
YDSTIE: What do you think are some of the most counterintuitive things that you find using this tool?
Dr. GERARD: Well, I think almost every result that was reported that - why people are interested in this, the men versus women, the New England being the safest reason is interesting. People are surprised that summer is - you're at higher risk in the summer than the winter of getting killed per mile driven or per trip.
YDSTIE: Any idea why that's the case?
Dr. GERARD: We suspect when it gets icy out, you slow down. So you're cruising along and you say, wow, it's icy, I'm going to slow down. So you may slide right into the rail and get out and curse, curse, because you've crashed your car, but you walk away from the accident. Whereas if you're tooling down the road at 90 miles per hour during the summer and you roll, then you don't walk away from that accident.
YDSTIE: David Gerard is a member of the faculty in the department of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of a report on traffic stats. You can find a link to the traffic database at npr.org. Dr. Gerard, thanks very much for talking with us.
Dr. GERARD: Thanks for having me.
YDSTIE: This is NPR News.
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