The Safety Priority

Since the introduction of the automobile, 30 million people are estimated to have died in motor vehicle crashes. That's more than the number of soldiers who died during World War I and World War II combined.

Globally, traffic fatalities are considered such an epidemic that the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched the Decade of Action for Road Safety during 2011-2020. The international initiative hopes to prevent five million road traffic deaths during the decade. Many countries are implementing national plans for road safety as well.

More on Safety Technology

In 2010, 32,855 people died in automobile accidents in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Car accidents are the leading causes of death for children ages 4-18 and adults ages 21-34.

The good news is that automobile-caused fatalities are down. The number of vehicle fatalities in 2010 declined 3 percent, and the number of deaths per 100 million miles traveled has decreased from 1.55 in 1999 to 1.10 in 2010, according to NHTSA. Traffic fatalities have fallen steadily since reaching a peak in 2005, declining about 25 percent from 2005 to 2010.

Education, legislation and changing social mores have contributed to lowering the casualty rate. In 2010, 85 percent of drivers used safety belts, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Drunken driving has been reduced, speed limits have been lowered, and cars today are constructed with sturdier safety cages and more effective crumple zones.

Driving Fatalities
Driving deaths are still too high, but deaths per 100 million miles traveled have decreased in the last decade.
Statistic 1999 2010
Total fatalities 37,140 32,855
Fatalities per 100 million miles traveled 1.55 1.10

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

"We've made enormous progress," says Rosemary Shahan, founder of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. "The Centers for Disease Control has noted that advances in motor vehicle safety rank among this country's top 10 public health achievements of the century."

High-tech solutions are leading the way for safety progress. These technologies can mostly be divided into two categories: Crash avoidance and crash protection, or active and passive safety. Some of the technologies in both categories include:

  • Active head restraints, which move forward upon a rear impact to catch the head and increase neck protection;
  • Adaptive cruise control, which uses radar or lidar (laser-based radar) to monitor and regulate the distance between vehicles;
  • Advanced airbags, which isolate and protect various body parts and, in some systems, deploy at different depths or velocities depending on the occupant's size and position;
  • Advanced seat belt pretensioners, which tense up when a collision is imminent and are sometimes paired with seats that automatically adjust for increased crash protection (conventional pretensioners activate during a collision);
  • Electronic stability control, which monitors traction loss and steering angle and automatically applies one or more of the brakes to keep the vehicle on course;
  • Lane departure warning systems, which signal a driver when his or her vehicle drifts from its lane;
  • Telematics, after-crash technology that combines the functions of cellular phones, GPS receivers and 911 operators; and
  • Tire pressure monitoring, which alerts the driver when a tire's pressure is low.
© Cars.com 07/20/2012