Driving Injuries Are Still Frighteningly Common. Here’s Why

Photo of author

(Newswire.net — December 14, 2019) — Despite all the advancements we’ve made to traffic control, vehicle safety, and general knowledge, injuries that result from car accident are still frighteningly common. Every year, Americans spend a collective 1 million days in the hospital as a direct result of injuries from car accidents, and more than 2.5 million Americans went to the emergency department (ED) as a result of a car crash in 2012. For every 1 person killed in a motor vehicle crash, roughly 8 people are hospitalized, and 100 more are treated and released from the ED. That doesn’t even account for people with mild injuries, who never went to the ED.

Modern vehicles are equipped with automatic driving features, better safety features, a wide range of alerts, good braking capabilities, fewer blind spots, and dozens of other features that should reduce the rate of car accidents in the United States. So why are car accidents and injuries still so common?

Increased Interest in Driving

Part of the issue is an increase in the number of cars on the road. Vehicle loans are so common and so cheap that they’re being analyzed as a potential economic bubble. Cars are so cheap and so plentiful that almost anyone can get one—and gasoline is cheap enough to incentivize driving long distances, which wasn’t the case even a decade ago.

More cars on the road means more opportunities for a collision. If we measure the rate of accidents in terms of number of accidents per million miles traveled, then increase the number of miles traveled, even a decrease in the per-mile frequency could still result in an increased number of injuries.

The Distraction Problem

We also need to face the distracted driving problem plaguing this country. Everyone who drives a car regularly probably has a smartphone, or a mobile device similar to one. It’s incredibly tempting to look at your phone while driving, even if it’s just to check a notification or send a quick text—but taking your eyes off the road for even a second will dramatically increase your chances of being involved in a collision. To make matters worse, most states are behind the times, with lax or nonexistent distracted driving laws. As a result, distracted driving kills 3,500 people per year.

Decreasing Fatalities

While the car accident fatality rate is still high, there are signs of it decreasing over time, thanks in part to better safety features. If cars are getting into the same number of total collisions, but are safer, then hypothetically, that should decrease the number of deaths and increase the number of injuries accordingly. That appears to be what’s happening, to some degree.

From 1998 to 2002, the motor vehicle fatality rate hovered between 1.50 and 1.60 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the United States. While the rate has increased in 2015 and 2016, it’s mostly on a downward trend; in 2017, the rate was 1.16 per 100 million VMT, and in 2018, the rate was 1.13 per 100 million VMT. Year-to-year, this doesn’t seem to be a big difference, but compare that to 1969, when the fatality rate was 5.04 per 100 million VMT, or 1921, the first year the statistic was on record, when the fatality rate was 24.09 per 100 million VMT. By this measure, in the past 50 years, we’ve reduced the fatality rate by 80 percent, and in the past 100 years, we’ve reduced it by 96 percent. It makes sense we might see additional injuries as a result of these improvements.

False Confidence in Safer Cars

That said, the lower fatality rates and safer cars may be working against us. Modern drivers understand that they live in a world with much safer roads and much safer vehicles, so they may be willing to cut corners, so to speak. Protected by seatbelts, airbags, crumpling frames, and more, they may be more likely to speed without realizing the increased risk they face while doing so.

This is especially true because of the overconfidence effect, a cognitive bias that leads us all to believe that we’re slightly better than average at pretty much everything. Ask yourself, do you believe you’re a better than average driver? Most people do, but statistically, this can’t possibly be true.

The Slow Progress of Safety

Road safety is a complex issue, and no single technological breakthrough or scientific finding will be able to let us master it. Every new technology we introduce will bring a host of other potential problems, and while we gradually decrease the motor vehicle fatality rate, we may necessarily increase the motor vehicle injury rate. All we can do is keep iteratively improving and learning from our past mistakes.