Why traffic fatalities are still high despite cars getting safer

Traffic fatalities in the U.S. remain at decade-high levels despite technology making cars much safer.

Motor vehicles todays are safer than they have ever been in the past, with MarketWatch reporting that 20 percent of vehicles manufactured in 2017 came equipped with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), which helps drivers stay in their lanes, automatically brakes to avoid collisions, and performs other safety features. It is surprising, then, that a recently released report by the National Safety Council (NSC) shows that fatal traffic accidents remain at stubbornly high levels, a fact that is likely due to an increase in both distracted driving and speeding.

Traffic fatalities stay above 40,000

The NSC's figures, which differ slightly from federal figures because they include accidents that happen on private property, shows that in 2017 there were 40,100 traffic fatalities in the United States. That's a slight one-percent decline from the 40,327 deaths that were recorded in 2016.

While any decline is welcome news, the figures also mean that 2017 was the second year in a row when traffic fatalities stayed above the 40,000 mark. Furthermore, because the previous two years had seen an unprecedented surge in traffic fatalities, that also means that 2017's numbers are still close to the highest they have been in nearly a decade.

Safer cars and more seatbelts

As CNBC reports, the NSC says that traffic fatalities should be much lower than they are given advances in vehicle safety in recent years combined with more widespread seatbelt usage. Just two years ago, for example, just eight percent of cars came equipped with ADAS, whereas that figure is now closer to 20 percent. The prevalence of ADAS along with more people wearing their seatbelts means that one would expect traffic fatalities to be declining much faster than they are.

The reason fatalities remain so high, however, is primarily because of distracted driving. Just 15 states plus D.C. ban the handheld use of phones while driving, while no states ban cellphones while driving completely (despite studies showing that hands-free cellphones behind the wheel are no safer than handheld ones). That means that distracted driving is particularly prevalent.

Even worse, a number of states have increased their maximum speed limits, with many stretches of Interstate now boasting limits of 80 and even 85 mph. Crashes that occur at those sp eeds are far more likely to result in serious injury or death than accidents at lower speeds.

Help after an accident

A motor vehicle accident is a difficult experience, especially since the physical and emotional trauma can be made even worse by the financial burden of medical bills, lost wages, vehicle repairs, and more. Fortunately, a personal injury attorney can help accident victims potentially recover compensation for their ordeal. An experienced attorney can help clients begin the claims process and show them how to go about pursuing the compensation they may be entitled to.