Has Car Safety Technology Made Us Safer On The Road?

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Has Car Safety Technology Made Us Safer On The Road?

Car makers’ advancements in safety technology are truly amazing:  anti-lock breaking systems, vehicle stability control; front and side panel air bags; high tech bumpers; vehicle sensors . . . just to name a few.  Interestingly, accident victims commonly feel that the car that hit them did not break at all just prior to colliding with the rear end of their vehicle.  When you are in a car accident and you do not hear the other vehicle’s breaks squeal on the pavement, this does not necessarily mean that the other driver didn’t break.  The reason: anti-lock braking (ABS) systems.  ABS systems allow drivers to apply maximal or near maximal breaking force to the wheels without losing traction on the road.  ABS systems constantly monitor the speed of each wheel and make adjustments to the break force on each wheel.  When a wheel is moving slower than the others, the system reduces the break force applied to that wheel.  When a wheel is moving faster relative to the other wheels, the ABS will apply more break force
to that wheel.  Your ABS works to protect you from collisions and accidents in an emergency breaking situation.  ABS systems were first introduced to consumer vehicles in the 1970s.  Now days, most new cars sold in the US are equipped with ABS.


With the advent of this smart technology one would think that per capita car accidents and injuries would be on the decline.  In my practice I have not perceived a decline and have long pondered how this could be the case.  The reality is that driving is not much safer today than it was 12 years ago.  According to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) annual State Highway Motor Carrier Crash Rate Tables, vehicle crashes per mile driven have not decreased; rather they have risen.  As for injury, ODOT reports show that injury and death rates from motor vehicle accidents have decreased over the past 15 years.


This data suggests that, although we are better protected from injury when we are in a collision, we have more collisions and accidents today than before the introduction of modern safety features.  Some think the reason is because the modern driver’s perception of safety means he or she is willing to take more risks and drive more aggressively than ever
before.  This is known as the Risk Compensation Theory.  If valid, this theory has some disturbing implications.  The safety advancements responsible for lessening a person’s chances of injury in a car crash are generally better in the more expensive luxury model cars or trucks.  In other words, we may be experiencing less injury in accidents as a general population, but
those unable to afford a luxury car are suffering the disproportionate share of injury.  Similarly, the accident avoidance technology is much better in more expensive vehicles.  Thus, your ability to avoid an accident altogether can depend on your financial means.


Thankfully, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandate many safety standards for all vehicles sold in the US.  NHTSA ensures that at least some safety technology is available to everyone but we seem to be lagging behind our European counterparts.  All new passenger cars sold in the European Union member states have been required to be equipped with ABS since 2007.  The NHTSA has yet to make ABS a requirement in new passenger cars in the United States.


Injuries from motor vehicle accidents can be devastating with lifelong implications.  In order for the promise of technological safety advancements to come to fruition, we need improvements in driver education and strong safety regulations.  We also must maintain strongcivil and criminal enforcement against negligent driving.

The above information is NOT a substitute for legal advice and should not be interpreted as the dissemination of legal advice. It is only meant as general guidance on various issues which may be applicable to your situation. It is critical that you
consult with an experienced attorney before taking any legal action or have specific questions addressing your particular case answered.

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