Government touts half-century of safety initiatives for reduction in traffic fatalities even as fatal Illinois car accidents are on the rise

The government has released a report detailing a half-century of safety initiatives as part of the reason for the historic decline in serious and fatal car accidents. However, as our Chicago injury lawyers have reported, the economic downturn has also played a significant role in the reduction. And, as the economy slowly recovers, the number of fatal Illinois car accidents is again on the rise.

Car accidents and traffic fatalities have been declining steadily since reaching a peak of 43,510 in 2005. Most recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that traffic fatalities declined from 37,423 in 2008 to 33,808 last year — a level not seen since the 33,186 deaths that occurred on the nation’s roads in 1950.

Safety officials are quick to point toward the success of enforcement efforts aimed at increasing seat belt use and reducing drunk driving.”Today’s numbers reflect the tangible benefits of record seat belt use and strong anti-drunk driving enforcement campaigns,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland in announcing the record-low fatalities. “But we are still losing more than 30,000 lives a year on our highways, and about a third of these involve drunk driving. We will continue to work with our state partners to strictly enforce both seat belt use and anti-drunk driving laws across this nation, every day and every night.”

Our Chicago personal injury lawyers have frequently reported the drastic decline in traffic crashes. But recently that trend has changed. The Illinois Department of Transportation reports that 746 people have died in Illinois car accidents thus far in 2010, compared to 742 during the same period a year ago.

That increase could be linked to the (albeit slow) economic recovery — many cite the sagging economy as a primary reason for the reduction. To counter this argument, the government points to an overall increase in miles traveled. However, it does not report whether a significant reduction in peak congestion (due to high unemployment and less holiday and vacation travel) could be partially responsible.

Additionally, not every category bears good news: Motorcycle accidents and bicycle accidents have continued to increase over a three-year moving average.

Recently, the government completed a study that does offer some insight into where the reductions are occurring, even if the reasons why remain a mystery.

-Crashes involving young drivers declined 17 percent between 2007 and 2008.

-Fatalities involving children under the age of 16 decreased by 20 percent.

-Multiple-vehicle fatalities decreased by 13 percent.

-Fatalities involving large trucks decreased by 12 percent.

-Weekend fatalities decreased by 11 percent.

The government cites a number of safety milestones along the historic downward trend in traffic fatalities that began in the 1970s:

1968: Front-seat lap and shoulder belts are required for all vehicles.

1970: NHTSA is formed by an act of Congress.

1971: Standardized training for EMTs.

1974: Nationwide 55mph speed limit enacted by Congress in response to energy crisis.

1978: First child safety-seat law enacted.

1980: Mothers Against Drunk Driving is formed.

1984: First seat-belt law enacted by New York.

1987: Passive restraint rules (airbags) began with the 1987 model year.

1988: All 50 states have raised minimum drinking age to 21.

1990: NHTSA begins providing crash worthiness tests.

1996: Safety campaign to move children to rear seats.

1998: All 50 states have zero tolerance alcohol policy for drivers under 21.

2002: First nationwide “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

2005: All 50 states have .08 legal limit for alcohol.

2008: Seat belt use up to 83 percent as states continue to enact primary enforcement laws.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an Illinois accident, the Chicago injury lawyers at Abels & Annes offer free and confidential appointments to discuss your rights. Call (866) 99-ABELS to speak with a lawyer. There is no fee unless you win.

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