It’s one of those good news/bad news stories and something of a mystery. As the national economy strengthens, highway deaths nationwide have continued to rise over the past few years.
According to the National Safety Council, 40,200 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2017, which amounts to a 6 percent increase over 2016. It’s the highest increase on record since 2007.
Ironically, today’s cars are inarguably engineered to be the safest since Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908. Most models are recording top crash-test scores and many brands built in the USA and abroad are offering state-of-the-art advanced safety technology designed to protect both vehicle’s occupants and help drivers avoid collisions in the first place.
“However,” Jay W. Dankner, managing partner of the top New York car accident injury law firm noted, “with a stronger economy meaning more people working at jobs requiring commutes, and more discretionary cash in peoples’ pockets, motorists are logging many more miles behind the wheel than in recent years.”
According to Charles Farmer, Vice President of research and statistical services for the Institute for Highway Insurance Safety (IIHS), a decline in the unemployment rate from 6 percent to 5 percent can be associated with a 2 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled, and subsequently a 2 percent jump in fatalities.
“What’s more, Dankner added, “motorists are encountering more trucks on the nation’s highways – again as a result of an improved economy – which means a greater frequency of commercial vehicle crashes that generally have more severe consequences than those involving only passenger cars.”
And yet despite many improvements in vehicle safety, statistics compiled by the IIHS show that some vehicles are still much safer than others. Based on traffic fatalities recorded for cars and trucks from the 2014 model year, the death rates for individual vehicles varies wildly, with 10 model lines responsible for zero driver casualties. That’s the good news. As for the bad news, at the other end of the spectrum, the subcompact Hyundai Accent accounted for 104 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years.
The smallest cars – which Americans were snapping up in earnest earlier in the decade until gas prices settled down to their current levels – tend to be among the most dangerous rides on the road.
“Seems there’s no defying the laws of physics,” Dankner said,” which dictate that a smaller and lighter vehicle will always fare worse in a collision than will a larger and heavier one.” The sportiest cars also tend to have higher-than-average fatality rates simply because they’re built and sold to be driven aggressively.
On the other hand, and to add to the good news story, it should come as no surprise the largest vehicles and those that tend to be driven more passively enjoy the lowest fatality rates, led by luxury SUVs and big luxury cars.
On the other side of the spectrum, here’s a look at the vehicles that were responsible for the highest number of casualties per million registered vehicle years during the same period:
- Hyundai Accent, 104
- Kia Rio, 102
- Scion TC, 101
- Chevrolet Spark, 96
- Nissan Versa, 83
- Kia Soul, 82
- Dodge Challenger 81
- Nissan Titan Crew Cab, 73
- Nissan Sentra, 72
Given even one injury or death in an auto accident is one too many, there can be a positive spin to all of this. Turns out the worst offenders among the smallest cars with the highest number of driver fatalities have actually improved since the IIHS last compiled its ratings. For example, The Hyundai Accent and the Kia Rio were responsible for 120 and 149 driver deaths per million registered vehicle years in 2011, respectively, which is likely to due to full redesigns they received for the 2012 model year.
Also, assuming the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ forecast of a 1.7 percent annual reduction in unemployment from 2014 to 2024 holds true, the IIHS’ expects that traffic fatalities will have peaked in 2016 and estimates there will be approximately 34,400 traffic deaths in 2024, compared with 35,092 in 2015.
The growing proliferation of models in all size and vehicle classes having forward-collision auto-braking systems and other advanced safety features will likely help reduce injuries and deaths caused by car accidents.
“Still,” Dankner stresses, “the most critical element in auto safety was and remains the person sitting behind the wheel. Driving defensively, avoiding talking/texting on mobile devices and keeping other distractions to a minimum, always fastening seatbelts, avoiding drinking/drug use and driving, and keeping close tabs on teenage motorists will always be a primary factor in reducing the bad news side of this story.”
For more information, or if you have been in an auto accident and are injured contact the top New York auto accident injury law firm of Dankner Milstein, P.C. by calling 212-751-8000. Or you can E-mail one of the firm’s lawyers for a free consultation.