Every day, about 90 people die in car crashes in the United States. Considering the advances in safety technology, you’d think the number would be going down.
But, according to a new survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the number of traffic fatalities appears to be increasing. More than a million people have died on America’s highways since 1990. Thankfully, Massachusetts does much better than the national average (Tied for the lowest number of traffic deaths in US). But even one person dying is one too many.
So what’s behind the disturbing nationwide increase in traffic fatalities?
An Alarming Trend
Since cars first came on the road in the 1920s, annual deaths per mile traveled have continued to decline (graphic below). In 2014, the nationwide fatality rate appeared to be on the decline, dropping to a record low of 1.07 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled. But preliminary statistics for 2015 show a disturbing change in direction.
Numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration won’t be complete until later in 2016, but the first three quarters of 2015 showed an increase of 9.3 percent in fatalities.
In the first nine months of the year, more than 26,000 people died in traffic accidents. In 2014, that number was 23,796.
The Story in Massachusetts
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Massachusetts tied Rhode Island for the nation’s lowest traffic fatality rate in 2014: 4.9 deaths per 100,000 residents.
Massachusetts had 310 fatal crashes that year, and 328 people died. Wyoming had the highest fatality rate in 2014, at 25.7 deaths per 100,000 population. The national average was 10.2.
Dangerous Behaviors Behind the Wheel
Massachusetts does have a problem, though:
Too many people don’t use their seat belts. Of the people who died in traffic accidents in 2014 in the state, half weren’t properly restrained. In this category, Massachusetts is worse than the national average, which is 45 percent.
Failing to wear a seat belt is just one dangerous behavior that contributes to traffic deaths. In the AAA foundation survey, more than 80 percent of motorists said they’re better drivers than others on the road.
The numbers tell a different story:
- One in eight has been close to or above the legal limit for drinking while behind the wheel in the last year.
- Seventy percent chatted on their phones while driving in the past month.
- Half admitted to speeding.
- Nearly 40 percent admitted running a red light.
- More than 30 percent had trouble staying awake while driving in the past month.
- More than 40 percent read a text or email while driving.
Many Accidents Are Preventable
Until driverless cars eliminate human error in the future, what can be done to keep people safe on the roads?
Many injuries and deaths on the roads could be prevented, experts say. A steady drop in traffic deaths over six years was attributed to better car safety features — airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control systems and others — and better road designs.
But even with all the new safety technology, drivers must stay alert and engaged. You can buy the most advanced vehicle with the best technologies. But if you’re texting or you drink and drive, that technology won’t help. To fully reap the benefits of safety advances, a dramatic culture change has to happen, experts say.
What if You’re Injured in a Traffic Accident?
If you’ve been injured in a crash, you need qualified legal representation to protect your rights. To consult with an experienced auto accident attorney in Boston, contact The Law Office of John J. Sheehan.
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