Cars Are Safer Than Ever, But Traffic Deaths Are Going Up

Senior Contributor
10.09.17 3 Comments

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The car has always been a dangerous mode of transportation. But since the 1960s, cars have become safer and safer, and the modern era is full of brilliant safety innovations like automatic braking. But as our cars have gotten smarter, we, apparently, have gotten dumber.

Wired breaks out the most recent traffic fatality statistics from the government, and, while they’re still much lower than the past, we’ve seen an uptick in fatalities in part because people are ignoring those click-it-or-ticket signs:

The feds say the number people who died while not wearing seat belts climbed 4.6 percent, and that drunk driving fatalities rose 1.7 percent. Contrary to what you might expect, the numbers show distracted driving deaths dropped slightly, but experts caution against putting too much faith in such info. The numbers are based on police reports. They’re reflections of what cops are seeing at crash sites, but also of what’s in the zeitgeist at the time. It could be that first responders weren’t, for example, looking out for distracted driving last year because it wasn’t in the news as often.

Part of the issue, it turns out, is we’re driving more and thus going down unfamiliar roads and going to unfamiliar places, so we’re looking at our phones more or perhaps having one or two more drinks than we should. Likely the fact that more and more of us are firing up a side hustle with ride-shares, delivery services like Instacart, or dropping off packages for Amazon is also contributing to the crash increases. The more you’re on the road, after all, the more risk you face as a driver. Wired also points out that an up economy means more car crashes as people have more money to spend and more places to go to spend it.

There’s also the matter of those advanced safety features. As Tesla’s Autopilot has demonstrated all too well, we’ll blindly trust automated safety features to protect us when really they’re just supposed to supplement safe driving. Even the most advanced car can’t do much if you set the cruise control and start fumbling in the back for a soda.

But part of this, in the end, is really on us as a society. There’s only so much that car companies, safety campaigns, and annoying pinging sounds from your car can do. Being safe on the road is up to us, in the end, and our common sense. At least until our cars are entirely robotic, and the decision to drive safe is taken out of our hands.

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