Car Wreck

After a concerning increase in U.S. traffic fatalities last year, traffic deaths fell by 4.2 percent during the first half of 2013, according to preliminary figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  The federal safety agency still estimated that 15,470 people died in all forms of motor vehicle crashes between January 1 and June 30, an estimated 15,470 were killed in a motor vehicle crash, compared to 16,150 fatalities reported during the first half of 2012. Some states, such as Ohio, are on track to have their lowest death tolls since record keeping began on a per-mile basis.

Measured in terms of fatalities per 100 million miles traveled, the rate for the first six months of the year dipped to 1.06, down from 1.10 fatalities during the first half of 2012.  With the economic recovery, experts feared that the fatality count would also increase due to more drivers on the road particularly during rush hour.  But other factors may have counter-balanced the increase, including:

  • Improved passive safety systems in vehicles, including better vehicle designs and improved airbags;
  • New active technologies, such as electronic stability control, which is now required in all new vehicles, and even more advanced collision avoidance systems;
  • Aggressive crackdowns on drunk and distracted driving

Highway deaths had been on a sharp decline for nearly a decade before suddenly reversing course in 2012. If the current estimate holds, road deaths will have fallen 26 percent since 2005, and a whopping 40 percent since hitting a peak of 54,589 in 1972. As recently as 1978 more than 50,000 Americans were killed each year in highway crashes. The figure dropped below 40,000 in 2008 — for only the second time — dipping to 37,423.

But the news wasn’t all rosy – as more states have eliminated mandatory motorcycle helmet laws, fatalities have been on the rise. In Michigan, total motorcycle deaths rose 18 percent in 2012, even though the law was changed only in April.

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