Why Are Traffic Fatalities Still So High?

As our society develops, we expect it to become safer and more supportive of longer, healthier lives. But if you take a look at traffic fatality statistics over the last decade or so, the fatality rate appears to be higher than ever. What makes traffic fatalities so common in such an advanced era? And what can we do about it?

Why We Expect Traffic Fatalities to Decline

Why would we expect traffic fatalities to decline?

·       Better technology. First, we have access to better technology. Undoubtedly, modern cars are safer than they’ve ever been in the past. Better responses to impacts, sleeker designs, visual notifications, and safety features like airbags and seatbelts have been all but perfected. Getting into a collision with a modern vehicle is much safer than getting into one with a vehicle from 50 years ago.

·       Better city planning. Better city planning should have also made an impact. City planners are conscientious of traffic fatalities, and they design intersections, roundabouts, and specific traffic laws to reduce those fatalities. Even something as simple as lowering a speed limit can have a drastic effect on accident rates.

·       Knowledge and experience. As a species, we should be hypothetically getting smarter. We understand the risks of driving much better today than we did 10 years ago, and we understand those risks much better than we did 20 years ago.

·       Accountability and consequences. If you’re injured in a motorcycle accident, you may be able to hire a motorcycle accident lawyer like nashvilletnlaw.com, and sue the offending party. If you operate your vehicle irresponsibly enough, you may even wind up in jail. Even if you don’t get into a collision, speeding and other traffic violations will earn you a hefty citation. The consequences for reckless and negligent driving should be severe enough to discourage these behaviors.

Why Traffic Fatalities Are Still So High

Given these precedents, why are traffic fatalities still so high?

·       Unchanged core dynamics. No matter how many upgrades we make to street designs or vehicle technology, the core dynamics of driving are still the same. These are still extremely heavy vehicles moving at extremely high speeds, and even a small disruption or mistake can cause a collision.

·       The nature of human error. The vast majority of car accidents are caused by human error. People speed, ignore signs, get distracted, drive while tired, and even fail to maintain their vehicles. For as long as humans make mistakes, traffic fatalities will continue to be a problem.

·       Distracted driving. Distracted driving has always been a problem, but its prevalence has skyrocketed in the past 20 years as mobile devices have become more powerful and sophisticated. Millions of people live most of their lives staring at a screen, and they don’t want to go even a few minutes without reviewing alerts or sending text messages. Too frequently, people believe themselves to be above the risks associated with distracted driving, and they use various handheld technologies that take their eyes off the road. Despite countless awareness campaigns and publicly available statistics to demonstrate how dangerous this is, people continue to act recklessly in this category.

·       Intoxicated driving. By now, everyone can attest that intoxicated driving is one of the most dangerous things you can do. But at the same time, intoxicated driving rates haven’t significantly improved. There are many possible causes for this phenomenon, but one of the most important to note is that being intoxicated inherently makes you less capable of judging how intoxicated you are. In other words, if you’re drunk enough, you may not realize how drunk you are – and you may not be in a position to make a responsible decision about operating a vehicle.

·       Population growth. When it comes to raw numbers of fatalities, population growth can have an impact. Even if the per capita traffic fatality rate declines, more people will die in traffic accidents if there are more people overall. Given the United States’s long trajectory of steady population growth, we can expect more people to die in traffic accidents every year even if the rate of fatal collisions is relatively unchanged.

·       Lack of support for pedestrians. Traffic fatalities are largely attributable to pedestrians who have been hit by vehicles. It’s somewhat obvious why – pedestrians are vulnerable, with no real protection to minimize the impact. Many areas throughout the country have minimal sidewalks, crosswalks, and other forms of support for pedestrians, so they remain especially vulnerable to negligent drivers.

·       A false sense of security. Safer cars can actually have the opposite of their intended effect; they sometimes make accidents more likely. If you feel extremely safe in your vehicle, you may be more likely to push the speed limit or take your eyes off the road. This has been an especially notable problem with semi-autonomous vehicles. If your car automatically drives itself for short stretches on the highway, you might stop paying attention to your surroundings.

Given the most recent statistics, it’s natural to feel cynical or pessimistic. But the truth is, we have made a lot of improvements to vehicle safety and traffic flow. We still have a long way to go, there are still many problems to solve, and we’ll probably uncover even more problems in the coming years. But gradually, we’ll make progress and eventually reduce fatality rates.