January, 2013
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Road Risks Factored by Three: Weather, Driver and Vehicle


Some home inspection hazards are apparent. For example, roofs, attics, crawl spaces and electrical panels obviously pose a potential threat to the welfare of inspectors, and must be approached with an understanding of the risk. Less obvious is the risk inspectors take when they load their work vehicles and head out, traveling to and from inspections.

There is good news about that risk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010 highway deaths fell to their lowest level in more than six decades, down 26 percent since 2005. Nevertheless, 32,885 deaths and an estimated 2.24 million people injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes in a year (2010) document the continued risk to anyone who is required to spend hours on the road every workday, especially those who are traveling to unfamiliar destinations.


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Factors credited with the national decline in deaths include public education and safer cars. Understanding these factors can play a role in reducing the risk for safety-minded home inspectors. Much of the public education focuses on recognizing hazardous weather and more so, dangerous driver behaviors. The third factor is safer vehicles.

Recognize weather-related hazards

Winter weather varies greatly across the country, but it's always wise to find out about weather conditions before leaving home. Tuning in to local news and weather alerts throughout the workday helps to avoid being surprised by worsening weather conditions. State departments of transportation also can be a source for information about the condition of the roads.

Snow and ice

If the challenge is snow and ice, here are some tips to consider:

First snow or ice: Drivers often aren't prepared for winter driving and forget to take it slow. Remember to drive well below the posted speed limit and leave plenty of room between cars.

Black ice: Roads that seem dry actually may be slippery – and dangerous. Take it slow when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges or shady areas — all are hot spots for black ice.

Limited visibility: Stay attentive and reduce speed. Know what's going on around you. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other vehicles.

Four-wheel drive: On snow and ice, go slowly, no matter what type of vehicle you drive. Even if you have an SUV with four-wheel drive, you may not be able to stop any faster, or maintain control any better, once you lose traction. Four-wheel drive may get you going faster, but it won't help you stop sooner.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more deaths occur each year due to flooding than from any other severe weather-related hazard.

The CDC reports that over half of all flood-related drowning occurs when a vehicle is driven into hazardous floodwater. People underestimate the force and power of water. Many of the deaths occur in automobiles as they are swept downstream. Of these drownings, many are preventable, but too many people continue to drive around the barriers that warn them the road is flooded. Most flood-related deaths and injuries could be avoided if people who come upon areas covered with water followed this simple advice: Turn Around, Don't Drown®.


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It takes only two feet of rushing water to carry away most vehicles. This includes pickups and SUVs.

If you come to an area that is covered with water, you will not know the depth of the water or the condition of the ground under the water.

Think ahead

Cell phones are notoriously unreliable in inclement weather. Instead of relying on one to call for help if stranded, be sure someone knows your schedule and the location of your inspections so the alarm will be sounded if you are long overdue.

Other ways to think ahead include checking your vehicle, specifically:

  • Wiper blades
  • Heater/defroster
  • Ignition/battery
  • Anti-freeze level
  • Headlights and taillights
  • Fuel
  • Brakes
  • Tires

And consider the following items for an emergency kit:

  • Booster cables
  • Road map
  • Chain/tow strap/shovel
  • Abrasive materials (sand or cat litter)
  • First-aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Extra pair of socks and gloves
  • Blanket
  • Batteries
  • Snacks and water
  • Ice Scraper
  • Flares and matches

As might be expected, most people slow down when roadway and driving conditions worsen, but not everyone. Driver behaviors are a major factor in highway safety.

Aggressive and distracted driving increase risks

The NHTSA has identified driver behaviors that increase the risk of being involved in an injury-related or fatal highway crash. Two are responsible for a significant percentage of behavior-related risk: driving aggressively and engaging in distracting activities.

1. Aggressive driving, defined as when "an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property," usually involves speeding.
Exceeding the posted limit or driving too fast for conditions is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. Speed is a factor in nearly one-third of all fatal crashes. Too few drivers view speeding as an immediate risk to their personal safety or the safety of others. Yet, speeding reduces a driver's ability to steer safely around curves or objects in the roadway, and it extends the distance required to stop a vehicle in emergency situations.

– Crash severity increases with the speed of the vehicle at impact. Inversely, the effectiveness of restraint devices like air bags and safety belts, and vehicular construction features such as crumple zones and side member beams, declines as impact speed increases.

– The probability of death, disfigurement or debilitating injury grows with higher speed at impact.

– Such consequences double for every 10 mph over 50 mph that a vehicle travels

2) Distracted driving occurs when drivers do one or a combination of the following:

Manual: Take their hands off the wheel

Visual: Take their eyes off the road

Cognitive: Take their mind off driving

Why do drivers take their hands, eyes or mind off the task of driving? Most likely are doing one of the following:

  • Texting
  • Using a cellphone or smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player

Texting is at the top of the list because it requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, making it by far the most alarming distraction. With that said, not all of the 3,092 fatal distracted-driver crashes and the additional 4,126 people injured in distracted-driver accidents in 2010 can be traced to texting. All of the other activities on the list increase the risk of being involved in a highway accident.

For instance, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon, driving while using a cellphone — even on a headset — reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.

In addition to reducing aggressive and distracted driving behaviors through public education, the good news about fewer highway deaths can be traced to improved safety features built into today's cars. Of course, some of the features require driver cooperation. Seat belts were first offered as an option in 1949 and buckling up became commonplace in the late 80s. Yet, among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants, more than half (51%) of those killed in 2010 were unrestrained.

The safer car

The automotive industry continues to offer vehicles with improved safety features, most dramatically with advances in crash avoidance and crash protection.

Safety ratings from NHTSA now list crash avoidance technology, such as:

  • Electronic stability control (ESC), which maintains vehicle control
  • Lane Departure Warning, which monitors lane markings on the road and cautions driver of unintentional lane drift, and
  • Forward Collision Warning, which detects vehicles ahead and cautions driver of impending collisions
  • Improvements in crash protection also are noted, such as:
  • Advanced head restraints, which reduce potential head/neck injuries in crashes
  • Advanced frontal air bags, which protect in frontal crashes by shielding the drivers and front passenger's head, neck and chest.
  • Side air bags and curtains, which protect in side crashes by shielding an occupant's head, neck, chest and pelvis
  • Safety belt load limiters and safety belt pretensioners, which absorb crash energy and tighten belts to restrain occupants

The NHTSA provides a safety vehicle rating service on its website, savercar.gov, where consumers can search by model, class, manufacturer and compare safety ratings for hundreds of vehicles.
Starting with 2011 models, the safety administration has introduced tougher tests and rigorous new 5-Star Safety Ratings that provide more information about vehicle safety and crash-avoidance technologies. Because of the more stringent tests, ratings for 2011 and newer vehicles should not be compared to ratings for 1990-2010 models. Overall vehicle score and frontal crash ratings should be compared only to other vehicles of similar size and weight.

  • 1990-2010: Previous 5-Star Safety Ratings provide front crash, side crash and rollover-resistance ratings.
  • 2011-Newer: New 5-Star Safety Ratings include an additional Overall Rating Score to make it easy to compare vehicles.

NHTSA categorizes vehicles by class and "curb" weight. Curb weight is the weight of a vehicle with standard equipment, including the maximum capacity of fuel, oil, coolant and air conditioning. Passenger cars are further subdivided.

  • Passenger cars mini (PC/Mi)
    (1,500–1,999 lbs.)
  • Passenger cars light (PC/L)
    (2,000–2,499 lbs.)
  • Passenger cars compact (PC/C)
    (2,500–2,999 lbs.)
  • Passenger cars medium (PC/Me)
    (3,000–3,499 lbs.)
  • Passenger cars heavy (PC/H)
    3,500 lbs. and over)
  • Sport utility vehicles (SUV)
  • Pickup trucks (PU)
  • Vans (VAN)

Side crash rating results can be compared across all classes because all vehicles are hit with the same force by the same moving barrier or pole.

Rollover ratings also can be compared across all classes.

Frontal crash rating results can only be compared to other vehicles in the same class and whose weight is plus or minus 250 pounds of the vehicle being rated. This is because a frontal crash rating into a fixed barrier represents a crash between two vehicles of the same weight.

5-Star Safety Ratings are posted on the Monroney labels (window stickers) that are required to be displayed on all new vehicles.

A symbol on the label alerts consumers to a safety concern the government has about the vehicle. That concern can include structural failure or some type of unintended performance of a vehicle component such as a fuel leakage or a door opening. Please note that safety concerns are not part of the calculation for an Overall Vehicle Score. A vehicle can have a high star rating, but still have a safety concern. However, if a safety concern is identified, the symbol will appear in the correct crash category and Overall Vehicle Score area.

NHTSA is the only organization that rates rollover resistance, in addition to frontal and side crashworthiness.

Because home inspectors often drive SUVs, pickups or vans, rollover resistance ratings may be of special interest.

Rollover: High fatality rate crash

According to the NHTSA, all types of vehicles can roll over. However, taller, narrower vehicles such as SUVs, pickups and vans have higher centers of gravity, and thus are more susceptible to rollover if involved in a single-vehicle crash.

Roll overs are dangerous incidents and have a higher fatality rate than other kinds of crashes. Of the nearly 9.1 million passenger car, SUV, pickup and van crashes in 2010, only 2.1% involved a rollover.

However, rollovers accounted for nearly 35% of all deaths from passenger vehicle crashes. In 2010 alone, more than 7,600 people died in rollover crashes. The majority of them (69%) were not wearing safety belts.

More so than other types of crashes, rollovers reflect the interaction of the driver, road, vehicle and environmental factors. So while vehicle type does play a significant role, other factors such as driver behavior and road and environmental conditions also can cause a vehicle to roll over.NHTSA data show that 95% of single-vehicle rollovers are tripped. This happens when a vehicle leaves the roadway and slides sideways, digging its tires into soft soil or striking an object such as a curb or guardrail. The high tripping force applied to the tires in these situations can cause the vehicle to roll over.

One of the best ways to avoid a rollover, therefore, is to stay on the road. Electronic Stability Control is a promising new technology that will help drivers stay on the road in emergency situations.
Rollovers are more likely to occur on rural roads and highways — particularly undivided, two-way roads or divided roads with no barriers. When a vehicle goes off a rural road, the vehicle can overturn when it strikes a ditch or embankment, or is tripped by soft soil. Nearly 75% of all rollover crashes occur in rural areas.

One last safety tip: Maintain your tires

Improperly inflated and worn tires can be especially dangerous because they inhibit a driver's ability to maintain vehicle control, the most important factor in reducing the chance of rollover. Worn tires may cause the vehicle to slide sideways on wet or slippery pavement, sliding the vehicle off the road and increasing its risk of rolling over. Improper inflation can accelerate tire wear and can even lead to tire failure. It is important to maintain your tires properly and replace them when necessary.

Take advantage of the good news

Reduce on-the-road risks. Buy safer, drive safer and be aware of the weather.

Source for article information: NHTSA and safercar.gov.



Auto Safety Agency Estimates More Than 2,200 Lives Saved by Electronic Stability Control Technology Over Three-year Period

Electronic stability control (ESC) technology is saving an increasing number of lives each year, according to a three-year study by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA study estimates that ESC technology saved 2,202 lives from 2008 to 2010 alone.

Electronic stability control was mandated on all light-duty trucks and passenger vehicles under a federal safety regulation issued in 2007. The requirement was phased in over the years covered by the study and applies to all new light vehicles manufactured on or after September 1, 2011.

ESC systems use computer-controlled braking of individual wheels to help drivers maintain control of a vehicle that is beginning to lose directional control and/or stability. There were 634 lives saved in 2008, 705 lives in 2009 and 863 lives in 2010.

"NHTSA research has consistently shown ESC systems are especially effective in helping a driver maintain vehicle control and avoid some of the most dangerous types of crashes on the highway, including deadly vehicle rollover situations or in keeping drivers from completely running off the roadway," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

Consumers interested in purchasing used vehicles should consider vehicles equipped with this technology. NHTSA maintains a list of model year 2005 to 2010 vehicles at www.safercar.gov equipped with this life-saving technology. Alternatively, consumers can search by individual make and model at the same web site.

NHTSA published a final rule in April 2007 establishing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 126, which requires manufacturers to install ESC systems on all passenger cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), vans and pickup trucks. The requirement set a phase-in schedule for compliance, culminating in a mandate for 100 percent installation of the life-saving technology on all new light-duty trucks and passenger vehicles manufactured on or after September 1, 2011, or for model year 2012 vehicles. The study also is consistent with President Obama's Executive Order 13563, which requires that each agency "periodically review its existing significant regulations" and is part of NHTSA's continuous effort to analyze the effectiveness of all of its rules, including ESC.

In May, NHTSA proposed a new federal motor vehicle safety standard to require electronic stability control (ESC) systems on large commercial trucks and large buses for the first time ever. Applying ESC technology to the heavy-duty fleet could prevent up to 56 percent of rollover crashes each year and another 14 percent of loss-of-control crashes in these vehicles.

View the NHTSA report, "Estimating Lives Saved by Electronic Stability Control, 2008-2010."