Drivers (And Their Passengers) Have A Lot to be Thankful For
It’s time to give thanks.
If you’re a driver in the USA, you’re safer than you’ve ever been. Motoring used to be a much riskier pursuit, as older people will tell you. Road deaths were taken for granted, seen as a natural consequence of operating a dangerous machine at high speed. Even drunk driving was accepted as an unfortunate reality, rather than a serious social problem.
Your odds of dying in a car crash were much higher in every decade preceding this one. In 1921, you were hundreds of times more likely to die in your Model T than you would today in your 2014 Focus. Even in the 1970s, fatality rates were several times higher than now. Many things have changed over the years to keep us all safer.
Cars have changed
Beautiful and retro-cool as they might appear, the cars of earlier years really were the death traps that they were made out to be. Virtually nothing was done in the name of driver safety until the 1930s, and efforts at that point were haphazard, unregulated and poorly monitored. Finally, in 1964, mandatory seat belts arrived. Over the years innovations such as improved crashworthiness, head restraints, child car seats, anti-lock brakes and airbags helped reduce the death toll. In recent years a plethora of electronic aids – backup cameras, stability control, and automatic braking systems – combine forces to keep you in one piece.
Roads Have Changed
It’s known that the condition of a road makes a difference to the safety of drivers. Today road markings are better than ever. We now have reflectors set in center lines of highways to make them stand out at night, and rumble strips that cause your vehicle to vibrate as a warning when you cross them inadvertently. Traffic barrier design is much improved, and impact attenuators — “cowboy cushions” — are placed in crash-prone areas. Speed bumps keep drivers from zooming down residential streets.
Drivers Have Changed
Driver error of one kind or another is still the main cause of vehicle accidents. But improved driver education and more public service communication has helped get safety messages out. Defensive driving courses and “55 Alive” programs for older motorists are common.
One way that drivers have changed dramatically: they don’t drive drunk nearly as often. In the mid-1970s alcohol was involved in more than 60% of road deaths. Today that figure is 37%.
A number of factors have helped reduce alcohol-related deaths in the USA:
- Media campaigns such as “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”
- Increased law enforcement efforts
- Stronger DUI laws
- Ignition Interlock Programs. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking
- DUI Courts: programs that supervise a DUI offender’s treatment and compliance with DUI laws
- Lobbying efforts by safety advocacy organizations such as MADD
The Road Ahead
As far as road safety goes, it’s never been a better time to be a driver. There are still too many accidents, too many people speeding, texting, and drinking while driving, and more measures are surely on the way to help us continue reducing traffic fatalities. At LifeSafer we have supported the efforts of legislators, organizations, companies, and citizens who work to reduce the carnage on the highways. Because of them, the worst years are in our rear-view mirror.
And for that we can be thankful.