• According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation, in 2019 there were over 6.7 million motor vehicle collisions in the United States, resulting in over 36,096 deaths. This statistic would be far worse if not for a multitude of vehicle safety devices developed over the last 60 years.

    A person’s survivability improves significantly when they are in a motor vehicle designed with several technological advancements in motor vehicle safety. The number of fatalities caused by motor vehicle crashes has steadily decreased since 1960, ranging from a high of 5.1 deaths per 100 million miles driven in 1960, down to 1.1 deaths in 2019. This trend is even more impressive given there are far more vehicles on the road today than in 1960. In terms of total number of miles driven per year, Americans drove 700 billion miles in 1960, compared to 3.3 trillion miles in 2019; an increase of 371%. However, during the same period, the number of traffic fatalities actually dropped 78%.

    Seat Belts

    Two safety features continue to stand out: seat belts and air bags. The original 2-point lap belt was flawed because it did not keep the upper body in place during a collision. The 3-point design, developed by Volvo in 1959, added a shoulder belt, which restrained the torso during an impact. In 1973, the United States mandated use of the 3-point seatbelt. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, three-point seatbelts reduce the risk of fatal injury in SUV’s, vans, and pickups by 60%, and by 45% in cars. Estimates show nearly 15,000 lives were saved by seat belts in 2017, and another 2,500 lives could have been saved if all vehicle passengers had worn their seat belts. [1]


    Airbags are also effective, but come with their own safety concerns, such as dangerous metal debris flying through the vehicle interior at high rates of speed. Many will recall this was the subject of a major product recall by car manufacturers mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) following a report published by the New York Times in 2014.[2] Still, research shows front airbags reduce driver fatalities by 29%, and by 32% in collisions involving front-end impacts for front-seat passengers aged 13 and older.[3] Using both airbags and seatbelts can reduce the chance of death in head-on collisions by 61%, according to the NHSTA.[4]

    In 1998, the U.S. government mandated the use of dual front airbags for the safety of the driver and front seat passenger. Today, car manufacturers produce vehicles with optional side curtain airbags, rear-window curtain airbags to protect back seat passengers in rear-end collisions, and far-side airbags to prevent drivers and passengers from hitting each other. Inflatable safety belts are also in development to reduce chest injuries in rear-seat passengers. [5]

    Crash Avoidance Systems

    In recent years, car manufacturers have begun installing crash avoidance technologies which can detect, anticipate, and warn drivers of potential collisions. Front crash prevention systems, using cameras, radar, or light detection and ranging (LIDAR) sensors have been shown to reduce front-to rear collisions by 27%, and crashes involving bodily injury by 20%. Some forward collision-warning systems integrate with automatic braking systems, which have been found to reduce front-to-rear collisions by up to 50%. Collisions resulting in injury were reduced by 56%.

    Backup Cameras

    Backup cameras became mandated on all new vehicles in 2018.[6] A 2014 study showed back-up cameras were effective in preventing collisions with both stationary and moving objects. A common criticism of back-up cameras is their limited field of vision, and the drop in their effectiveness if an object is wholly or partially shaded. Still, rearview cameras have been found to reduce the number of backing crashes by 17%, while rearview cameras coupled with auto-braking systems have reduced crashes while backing up by 78%. Rear cross-traffic alert systems have reduced backing collision by 22%.[7]

    Other newer safety features, including lane departure warning and prevention, have reduced the rates of single-vehicle, sideswipe and head-on collisions as reported to law enforcement agencies.[8] Blind-spot detection systems have also been found to decrease the frequency of lane-change collisions by 14%.[9]

    Even with all the technology and safety systems available in motor vehicles, there is still no substitute for drivers doing their part to be operate their vehicle in a safe responsible manner by slowing down, allowing sufficient room between their vehicle and others, avoiding all distractions (such as texting and driving), and remaining focused and aware of the roadway.

    The presence or absence of motor vehicle safety systems can make a significant difference in how severely a person is injured in a motor vehicle collision. Not everyone can afford vehicles that offer all of these safety measures, but knowing which safety systems to prioritize can help drivers make the best choices in what they drive.

    If you ever have questions about how vehicle safety systems can impact an insurance claim or a legal case for injuries resulting from motor vehicle collisions, feel free to contact us. We are always glad to help.

    [1] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812683.pdf

    [2] https://www.consumerreports.org/car-recalls-defects/takata-airbag-recall-everything-you-need-to-know-a1060713669/

    [3] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812069.pdf

    [4] https://www.iihs.org/topics/airbags

    [5] https://www.iihs.org/topics/airbags

    [6] https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0018720814553028

    [7] https://www.iihs.org/media/259e5bbd-f859-42a7-bd54-3888f7a2d3ef/shuYZQ/Topics/ADVANCED%20DRIVER%20ASSISTANCE/IIHS-real-world-CA-benefits.pdf

    [8] https://www.iihs.org/media/e635cc76-b9bc-4bad-a30a-5d7b78791df2/vxeQ3A/HLDI%20Research/Collisions%20avoidance%20features/37-12-compendium.pdf

    [9] https://www.iihs.org/topics/bibliography/ref/2143

    [10] https://www.visualcapitalist.com/how-has-car-safety-improved-over-60-years/


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