Improved Car Safety Features Reducing Car Accident Deaths
It’s no secret that car safety technology has come a long way over time, but the progress over the past few years alone has been tremendous. Cars are doing a more effective than ever before in keeping drivers and passengers alive in the event of a car accident.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently reported that over the past three years, the odds of dying in an accident in a late-model vehicle have dropped by one third. This study primarily looked at 2011 vehicles, but also included vehicles as old as 2008 if they hadn’t been significantly redesigned before 2011. Out of the 2011 vehicles looked at by the IIHS, nine of them had zero reported driver deaths in accidents, which is a new record. Just eight years ago, there weren’t any cars with a driver death rate of zero.
The change in driver death rates is largely attributed to improvements in vehicle design and safety technology. It’s estimated that if car design and safety features had gone unchanged since 1985, there would have been 7,700 more driver deaths in 2012. However, this study doesn’t account for how other factors such as increased seat belt usage and improved driver behavior may have influenced these numbers.
It’s very noteworthy that six out of the nine vehicles with a zero driver death rate were SUVs. A decade ago, SUVs were notorious for their tendency to be involved in rollover accidents. In the time since then, electronic stability control (ESC) has become widely used in SUVs, significantly reducing the risk of rollover accidents. The rate of death in rollover accidents among 2011 model vehicles is 5 per million registered vehicles, which is less than one quarter of what it was for 2004 models. Thanks to ESC, SUVs now actually have lower driver death rates than any other type of vehicle on the road.
Although we are clearly moving in the right direction, the gap between the safest and least safe vehicles is still rather large. The IIHS found three cars that had a driver death rate of over 100 per million registered vehicles. The vehicle with the highest driver death rate was the 2011 Kia Rio, which had 149 driver deaths per million registered vehicles. Small cars and minicars were consistently some of the least safe cars the IIHS looked at because smaller cars don’t offer as much protection as larger cars like SUVs.
Some places, such as New York City and Sweden, have been working toward completely eliminating car accident deaths. IIHS vice president and chief research officer David Zuby says, “The complete elimination of traffic deaths is still many decades away, and, along with vehicle improvements, getting there will require changes in road design and public policy that can help protect all road users. Still, the rise in the number of vehicles with zero driver deaths shows what’s possible.”