Traffic Fatalities Lowest Since 1949

by Don Elliott on April 12, 2012

Car AccidentThe amount of information available about our cars, our driving habits, and our safety on the roads is amazing. While doing some research on passive restraint usage, I came across some facts that completely surprised me.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the total number of traffic fatalities in motor vehicle crashes in 2010 was the lowest number recorded since 1949. A total of 32,885 deaths were recorded in 2010 compared with 30,246 traffic fatalities in 1949. Traffic fatalities peaked in 1980 at 45,284 deaths, not long after seat belts were added as standard equipment in passenger cars and light duty trucks, but before seat belt usage was widely adopted.

The U. S. Department of Transportation began keeping detailed records on motor vehicle deaths in 1975. Their “Fatality Analysis Reporting System” (FARS) includes very specific tracking of car accident trends, age and gender of those killed, seat belt use, speeding, and impaired driving.

Statistics for 2010 indicate the lowest deaths (32,885), the lowest fatal crashes (30,196), and the lowest number of motor vehicles involved in fatal crashes (44,713) since detailed records were established in 1975.

The numbers are surprising considering the Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) has been about 3,000,000,000 miles for the last couple of years. For 2010, that is about a million miles driven safely before a fatality occurs. It is a difficult number to generalize, but impressive when rolled up to the big averages.

Why is the fatality rate going down while vehicles in operation and miles driven are continually increasing? R. L. Polk & Co., a leading provider of automotive information and statistics, reports there were 240,504,646 units in operation in the United States in July of 2011. Enter the used car value factor. Safety features added inside and outside of the vehicle shroud the driver and passengers in a crash event. Vehicle design protects passengers in a cocoon-like space with air bags, three point safety harnesses, headrests, better seat design, and better-engineered structural components. Better tires, clearer lines of sight, headlight improvements, steering and suspension technology, and improved braking also make today’s cars safer than their predecessors.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports the percentage of seat belt usage by the driver in crashes where a fatality was involved increased from 49.1% in 1994 to 63.3% in 2009. The indication here is that more drivers are buckling up, contributing to the overall reduction in traffic fatalities.

As a final note, the fatality rate amongst motorcyclists was 21.45 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2009. Compare that to the passenger car fatality rate of 0.67 per 100 million VMT. While the motorcycle fatality rate seems comparatively high, it is down by about half from where it was in 2005 (43.77 per 100M VMT) and 2006 (40.14 per 100M VMT).

While the traffic fatalities are decreasing, car accidents still happen. Don’t turn into a statistic – Drive Safely!

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