Until recently, the rates of traffic-related deaths have been declining, In fact, since the 1970s, the rates of traffic deaths have dropped from 50,000 per year to nearly 30,000. However, in 2015 this trend reversed when traffic fatality rates spiked by 7.2 percent, the largest jump in nearly 40 years. The fatality rates were even worse in early 2016, which rose by 8 percent.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the rate of traffic-related deaths is directly correlated to vehicle miles traveled (VMT). During the decline of annual traffic fatalities, the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis reporting System (FARS) found that improved car safety technology and driver education were one of the leading factors in lower fatalities. In the most recent traffic death analysis, the FARS system reported that as the economy improved and gas prices dropped more cars were on the roads, and this led to more vehicle collisions.
Other factors may have a part in the rise of traffic deaths. After all, the NHTSA reports that 10 percent of all fatal crashes involving young drivers (ages 16 to 24) resulted from distracted driving.
The NHTSA is currently working with vehicle manufacturers and state legislators to reduce the number of traffic related deaths to zero within the next 30 years in the “Road to Zero” coalition. Mark Rosekind, administrator of the NHTSA, states “every single death on our roadways is a tragedy,” and claims that a better economy should not be a factor in more traffic deaths. “We still have to figure out what is underlying those lives lost,” said Rosekind.
The Necessity of Defensive Driving
While advances in vehicle technology have undoubtedly saved lives, the practice of defensive driving is what ultimately will reduce road fatalities. Defensive driving, put into simple terms, is the practice of reducing the risk of vehicle collisions by using situational awareness and common sense. The following techniques should be kept in mind when you drive, and will help ensure your safety and the safety of others.
- Do not assume that other drivers will be responsible. Part of avoiding collisions, even if you practice responsible driving, is knowing that the other cars on the road pose a threat. Accordingly, you should always keep a safe distance away from other vehicles on the road. A safe distance can be determined by using the “three second rule,” meaning that the distance between your car and the car in front of you, should take three seconds to travel. For example, if the car in front of you passes a tree, you should pass the same tree three seconds later. Also, be aware that other drivers actions are not always predictable. For that reason, you should be aware of every car that is close and not just the car in front of you.
- Avoid distractions. This step is crucial and obvious, but also ignored by many drivers. Know what can easily distract you and avoid it. Start by turning off your cell phone while you drive. This step may be especially challenging to parents who have to travel with children on a regular basis. In this situation, remember that pulling over is always the safest course of action if you need to deal with a family situation while in the car. Driving while angry or upset can also be dangerous. If you find yourself becoming upset, pull over and take a deep breath to calm down (when it is safe to do so).
- Use the safety features available in your car. Crumple zones, automatic brakes, lane departure warnings, vehicle sensors and other safety features have reduced traffic fatalities. However, nothing will protect you and your family as well as wearing seat belts and shoulder straps at all times.
- Pay attention to recalls. If you receive a recall notice, take your car in to be fixed. It is inconvenient, but in most cases, the vehicle manufacturer will pay for it. Believe it or not, an estimated 63 million recalled cars are on the road today that still have not been repaired. Bring your car in for repairs. It could save your life.
For more information on safe driving, please download our car safety ebook.