Has Car Safety Technology Made Us Safer On The Road?

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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.  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 increased.  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) mandates 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 strong civil and criminal enforcement against negligent driving.


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