President Lyndon Johnson decried what he called the highway disease when he announced the establishment of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration more than 50 years ago. As President Johnson saw it, upwards of 50,000 Americans dying on U.S. roadways was akin to heart disease, cancer and other serious illnesses.
The NHTSA pushed to reduce the number of traffic fatalities, with the administration’s efforts reaching a pinnacle in 2011. That year, there were roughly 32,000 accident-related deaths. Since then, the number of traffic fatalities has increased annually to as many as 38,000 deaths each year.
Why did traffic fatalities decrease?
The drop in traffic fatalities between 1970 and 2011 was likely due to a few factors. First, the decrease in nationwide speed limits lessened the severity of accident impacts, allowing more individuals to escape car accidents with minor injuries or no injuries at all. Drunk driving enforcement also increased during the period.
Likewise, vehicle manufacturers begin installing safety features on cars, trucks and SUVs. Seat belts, airbags, crumple zones and other safety enhancements protect drivers and passengers from serious injury. Additionally, the NHTSA closely monitored vehicles for safety-related concerns, issuing recalls when necessary.
Why are traffic fatalities on the rise?
While it is difficult to identify the root cause of the recent uptick in accident-related deaths, technology may be partly to blame. With the widespread availability of smartphones, drivers face new distractions every time they climb behind the wheel.
Regrettably, if a driver does not devote sufficient attention to both the road and the driving task, lives may be in danger. Because both drunk and drowsy driving are also commonplace on U.S. roadways, operator error also often plays a role in traffic fatalities.