NHTSA: Better Car Safety Drove Historic Drop in Deaths, Injuries

A new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report shows that the chances of crashing or dying in a traffic crash is dropping to historical lows because of safer vehicles with improved designs.

In a comparison of 2008 model year vehicles and 2000 model year vehicles, the NHTSA found that the chances that a motorist would be unscathed in a crash rose from 79 to 82 percent as a result of improving vehicles made between those model years.

As a result of “remarkable improvements to vehicle safety,” the likelihood of crashing per every 100,000 miles driven fell from 30 percent for 2000 model year cars to 25 percent for 2008 model year cars, according to the latest study. Researchers also estimated that 2,000 lives have been saved because of improved car safety between 2000 and 2008.

A separate NHTSA study, released in May, found that crash-related fatalities fell by about 25 percent between 2005 and 2009, driven largely by decreases in crashes among younger motorists. In addition, 2009 marked the first year since 1981 that car crashes fell out of the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the study.

“Safer cars, along with safer drivers and roads, are key components in ensuring the annual number of traffic fatalities remains on a downward trajectory,” David Strickland, an NHTSA administrator, said in a statement.

Rollover Prevention a Big Contributor to Overall Decrease

The NHTSA study did not explore specific technologies or design features that may have contributed to the decrease in crash and death rates, instead addressing those rates by crash type.

Rollovers, typically a rare type of crash but one of the most dangerous to motorists, saw the greatest reduction. The likelihood of being involved in a rollover accident fell by about 6 percent with every model year between 2000 and 2008.

The improvements in rollover prevention have “substantial implications for saving lives and mitigating injuries” overall, according to the study, which attributed some of the improvement to electronic stability control (ESC) technology that is now an industry standard.

Fewer Traffic Crashes, Deaths Carry Insurance Implications

A recent report from consulting firm Celent addressed the impact that lower rates of traffic crashes and deaths would have on the insurance industry, conceiving a likely scenario in which the “need for automobile insurance is substantially reduced.”

Consumers who wonder how much is car insurance going to cost when technologies, including collision avoidance systems like ESC, become widely available in newer model cars will find cheaper prices, as significant drops in roadway crash and fatality rates are followed by drops in premiums.

In turn, drops in premium rates will lead to a shake-up in the insurance industry as “insurers see a large reduction in their revenue,” according to the report.

The report also issued a warning to insurers to take notice of technology’s impact on crash rates and the industry at large: “Ignoring the scenario, and not watching to see how closely actual developments follow it, is a poor option.”

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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