Auto Fatalities – Good News; Bad News

Want some good news?  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) drew together some new data on motor vehicle crash fatalities and looked at that in a historical perspective.  The news – 2011 fatalities were down 30% from the numbers in 1975.  The bad news, of course, is that 32,367 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2011.  We were reporting just a couple of days ago on developments around “black boxes” in cars that could go a ways toward helping reduce fatalities even more in years to come.

Our friends at have some data for us that provide insight into the causes of fatalities presently.  Again, we have a kind of good news, bad news situation. The good news is we are making gains in some areas; the bad news is they are being eaten up by new technologies that are, literally, killing us.  Assuming Statisticbrain is right – and their 2011 numbers do square with IIHS – the death toll in 2012 fell even further to 25580 which is about half the figure in the 1970’s when deaths were over 50,000 per year.  A lot of this decline has come in drunk driving fatalities where enforcement efforts have cut fatalities greatly.   However drunk driving still remains the leading cause of fatalities, dipping just under the one-third mark.  Speeding remains the second leading cause at 31% but modern technology is coming up fast with distracted driving accounting for 16% of deaths.  Our addiction to texting or talking on the phone when driving could prove as intractable a problem as alcohol.

The improving safety of motor vehicles themselves is probably reflected in the statistics on fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.  This number, which is now nearing one fatality per 100 million miles traveled, really reflects all of the efforts – auto safety, traffic law enforcement, infrastructure improvements and educational efforts to make auto travel safer.  Since 1952, fatalities per 100 million miles traveled have decreased an astonishing 85%.  Washington State has certainly benefited from this reduction since we stood 42nd of the 50 states in fatalities per 100 million miles in 2006.

The people most likely to die in motor vehicle accidents are the old and the young.  Fatality rates for seniors 75 and older are very close to the rates for those 15 to 24.  There are also differences in fatality rates by day with Saturday rates the highest and the early weekdays the lowest.

We probably don’t even need to mention it, but if you are an area senior, the last thing you need to be doing is drinking, driving and talking on your cell phone on a Saturday night.  Statistically speaking, that is suicide.

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