Back in 1961, death records from motor vehicle accidents reached a record 11-year low of roughly 49 deaths per billion miles traveled on our public roads and peaked in 1966 with 55 deaths per billion miles of travel in 1966.
We’ve been fortunate enough to see a continuous decrease in these rates and have come to see a death rate as low as roughly 11 deaths per billion miles traveled. We saw this recent low record of deaths resulting from car accidents in Chicago and elsewhere in 2009, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).Many credit this decrease to the creation by Congress of the National Highway Safety Bureau, the forerunner of the current National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) back in 1966. In ’67 and ’68, the first edition of federal motor vehicle safety standards was created.
Our Chicago car accident attorneys understand that these low records are something to celebrate, but we also recognize the need for more motorist participation in safe driving habits if we’re going to continue making progress moving forward. Low fatality rates can also result in less attention being paid to safety concerns, or to complacency. As we’ve reported frequently, much of the reduction in the past few years can be attributed to the economic downturn — the risk of serious and fatal accidents is expected to rise again with economic recovery.
“This is exciting news, but there are still far too many people dying in traffic accidents,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Drivers need to keep their hands on the steering wheel and their focus on the road in order to stay safe.”
There are a number of other contributors to this decreasing rate besides the federal motor vehicle safety standards. Some would like to show recognition to seat belt laws that some states have enacted, safety advocate groups against drunk driving, the economic downturn, laws banning cell phone use, graduated licensing laws and road improvements.
A large number of people would like to credit the new wave of vehicle crash worthiness tests for the decrease in these fatality rates. These tests began back in 1978 as the NHTSA started the first comparative safety test and released the information to the public. This test and the release of this information caused automakers to begin improvements to their vehicles safety standards.
Other organizations have jumped on the bandwagon and started to rate cars based on their safety features. From this, the IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK was created. This system allow consumers to choose their vehicles based on a safety and performance rating and to determine which vehicles are most likely to keep them safe in the event of an accident.
But where do we go from here?
Many are awaiting new crash avoidance technology, currently available in some new model cars, to take a majority of the risks of an accident out of the driver’s hands and into the brain of the car. New technologies like these can help one to avoid collisions, to avoid veering out of a lane and to help stop the car if a driver fails to do so.
Many new vehicles come equipped with side-view assist, turn-by-turn navigation, adaptive headlamps and other features to ease the stress of driving. While these new technologies are meant to help avoid collisions, the IISH reports that these technologies are relevant in nearly 2 million accidents each year and are present in more than 10,000 fatal accidents.
Many safe driving advocates would like to see more road improvements to decrease these rates even more. Many would like to see more roundabouts. Roundabouts are intersection designs that both move more traffic and improve safety. These safe traffic intersections are just beginning to show up in the United States. If is estimated that if just 10 percent of intersections in our county with traffic lights were converted to roundabouts, we would be able to prevent approximately 70,000 accidents each year, with nearly 500 of them fatal.
“This continuing decline in highway deaths is encouraging, but our work is far from over,” said National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland. “We want to see those numbers drop further. We will not stop as long as there are still lives lost on our nation’s highways. We must continue our efforts to ensure seat belts are always used and stay focused on reducing distracted and impaired driving.”
According to the NHTSA, fatal traffic accidents in the Unites States in 2009 took the lives of more than 25,000 vehicle occupants and injured another 2.35 million. Illinois saw more than 700 vehicles involved in fatal traffic accidents in 2009 alone. Of all SUVs, pickup trucks, vans, and other forms of vehicle transportation, passenger vehicles, which a majority of us drive, were involved in the greatest number of fatal accidents on out state’s roadways.
With all of these advancements in road laws and regulations, car feature upgrades and roadway improvements, the most beneficial and effective way to decrease the number of car accident fatalities and increase the safety of motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists is to focus the attention inward and concentrate on our own driving habits.