As technology for the driverless car advances, our vehicles are safer and smarter than ever. Driver assist technology, safety warning systems, and improved restraints make modern cars infinitely safer than cars of the past, and yet Americans are still dying in car crashes at a similar rate.
Despite a significant decline in fatalities between 2007 and 2014, traffic deaths have increased in 2015 and 2016, nearly reaching 2005 levels. If our cars are safer, what accounts for this sudden surge? The answer appears to be that there are more of us on the road, and while we're behind the wheel, we engage in risky behavior.
Driver Fatality Statistics
According to statistics from the National Safety Council, nearly 40,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2016, up from 37,000 in 2015 and 34,000 in 2014.
Traffic deaths in Missouri increased by 24 percent between 2014 and 2016, and by 12 percent in Kansas. Nationally, this is the most drastic increase in traffic fatalities over a two-year period since 1964. While not the deadliest year in history—deaths exceeded 50,000 per year in the late 70s and early 80s and were as high as 45,000 in 2001—the upward trend is a problem.
It's also concerning that these deaths are happening despite innovations in car safety technology.
What Explains the Increase?
According to analysts, one explanation for the increase in traffic deaths is an improved economy. As more people are employed and income levels increase, more people buy and drive cars. In addition, lower gas prices over the last few years encourage people to drive more miles and use public transportation less. In a good economy, more teenagers—who have the highest fatal crash rate per mile of driving—can afford to drive as well, compounding the problem.
Risky Behaviors Are on the Rise
Added to the increase in the number of cars on the road has been an increase in risky and distracted driving behaviors. As cell phones have gotten smarter, Americans have become more attached to them, unwilling to ever put them down—even while driving.
Drivers are increasingly more comfortable with risky behaviors behind the wheel. A survey conducted by the NSC in 2017 revealed the following frightening statistics:
- 64 percent of drivers are comfortable speeding.
- 47 percent believe they can safely text while driving, either manually or through voice controls.
- 13 percent think they are okay to drive while impaired by marijuana.
- 10 percent are comfortable driving even after they feel they've had too much alcohol.
Automakers are making great strides in developing safety features and technology to counter mistakes made by drivers, but 2016’s fatality numbers suggest they're not working as hoped.
These Safety Features Should Keep Us Safer
Any safety feature that takes driver action out of the equation is likely to be successful. However, many of today’s standard features provide information and options to drivers but still require smart decision-making. Seatbelts and airbags save lives, but drivers have to use them. Cameras and electronic warnings tell the driver when there's an obstacle, but the driver must notice the warning and take action to avoid an accident. Anti-lock brakes and stability control systems work best when the driver understands how they work and how to respond in certain situation—
knowledge which studies have found to be lacking in many drivers.
What Can We Do About it?
While some states have made progress in driver safety laws, the NSC believes we need to put universal laws in place across the country, including the following:
- Mandating ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers.
- Installing and using automated enforcement techniques to catch speeders.
- Extending laws banning all cell phone use—including hands-free—to all drivers, not just teens; upgrading enforcement from secondary to primary in states with existing bans.
- Upgrading seat belt laws from secondary to primary enforcement and extending restraint laws to every passenger in every seating position in all kinds of vehicles.
- Adopting a three-tiered licensing system for all new drivers under 21—not just those under 18.
Until changes like these are implemented, it's up to drivers to make smart decisions to keep themselves and others safe. If you were injured in a crash with a careless or reckless driver, contact the car accident professionals at Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys to learn about the actions you can take to ensure you're treated fairly by the insurance company.