When you have statistics like this – 43 thousand people killed and 2.6 million injured every year on American’s roads, you know you have a problem. These are real numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and they give you an idea of how serious a problem auto accidents are in this country. In Texas alone, over 3,400 people die each year in auto accidents. As consumers we should all be up in arms, demanding safer roads and vehicles with better safety features. After all, it’s our friends and family out there risking their lives on the roads.
Traffic accidents happen for a variety of reasons. There are accidents that can be blamed on “human factors”: fatigue, carelessness, drug or alcohol intoxication, driver error, distraction, poor judgment, and more. Then there are failures of our road and maintenance operations. If roadways are improperly designed or maintained, they can be hazardous for drivers and cause unnecessary accidents and injuries. Then there are accidents that can – and should be – be prevented by better vehicle technology.
Vehicle Manufacturers Can Make a Difference
Vehicle technology has come a long way since the first Model T’s hit the streets in the early 1900’s. These days, with our massive super-highways, high-powered performance engines, and millions of vehicles traveling together every day, safety isn’t a “nice-to-have” – it’s a necessity. seat belts, anti-lock brakes, airbags – these are just a few examples of safety measures that have helped reduce fatality rates on our roads. What does the future hold for safety innovations?
The hottest new improvement has to be Electronic Stability Control (ESC). ESC was developed using antilock braking technology and works by controlling the automatic braking in each wheel to prevent the vehicle’s heading from changing too quickly or not quickly enough. The NHTSA estimates that ESC can reduce single vehicle crashes in cars by 35% and by 67% in SUVs. These statistics are significant, because single vehicle crashes are responsible for over 50% of the traffic fatalities in the United States. In fact, ESC is considered so important in new vehicles that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) required that all of their 2007 Top Safety Picks be equipped with ESC.
The federal government has been very involved in pushing manufacturers to improve vehicle safety. In fact, NHTSA created the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in 1979 to encourage vehicle manufacturers to voluntarily improve safety on the cars and trucks that they make. NCAP then created the Safecar.gov portal, which provides vehicle safety information for consumers. The belief is that well-educated consumers will pressure manufacturers to improve their vehicle safety. And it’s true – as consumers, we have to remember that we “vote” with our dollars when we buy a new vehicle. If you want manufacturers to offer vehicles with better gas mileage or top-of-the-line safety features, make sure you don’t settle for anything but the best. Incidentally, NCAP is also a big proponent of ESC, and has proposed requiring it on all light-duty vehicles by 2009.
ESC is just the start of what’s coming. Additional improvements to vehicle safety have been researched by the NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) and include:
- Traffic lane tracking with warning when a vehicle leaves their lane of travel
- Lane tracking combined with steering assist, to keep vehicles in their lane of travel
- Curve speed warning to reduce running off the road
- Forward vehicle sensing with warning and / or braking, to reduce rear-end crashes
- Side object detection with warning and / or steering assistance, to reduce lane change accidents
- Driver warning and braking control coupled with vehicle to vehicle and / or vehicle to infrastructure communication to reduce intersection crashes
Finally, the most recently passed law, the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, focuses on safety measures aimed at preventing child injuries and fatalities in non-traffic accidents. With passage of this act, we will likely see future improvements to power window safety (so children can’t get caught in power windows as they close), vehicle blind spots (so children aren’t run over when they are in a vehicle’s blind spot), brake transmission shift interlock (so children can’t inadvertently move a car out of park).
What You Can Do to Stay Safe on the Road
At the end of the day, you can’t control the behavior of other drivers or unforeseen road conditions. What you can control as a driver is your own behavior on the road. Make sure you aren’t contributing to the injury and accident statistics by practicing safe driving yourself. The NSC has published a list of pre-start safety guidelines and a Start Up for Safety Checklist that every driver should review before starting their car in order to ensure a safe trip:
- Ensure seat belts and child restraints are buckled and properly fastened for all occupants
- Properly adjust side and rearview mirrors
- Correctly position seat and head restraints for all occupants
- Turn off cell phones
- Secure loose objects
- Look for engine warning lights
- Check fuel and fluid levels
- Check tire pressure
- Allow enough time to avoid speeding and aggressive driving
Accidents Don't Just Happen
We’ve all heard that line, “accidents happen”. Well, they certainly happen a lot on our roads, every day. But what is missing from that trite cliché is the fact that when accidents happen, there is always a reason behind them. Most accidents could be avoided if drivers would slow down, pay attention to the road, and not drive when tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But even if you take every safety precaution in the world, you can still be involved in an accident because of somebody else’s negligence. If this happens to you, it can be very overwhelming, especially if the accident is very serious.
Accidents caused by another driver’s negligence, by poor road conditions, or by a failure of your vehicle’s safety systems are all avoidable tragedies. If you or someone you love has been injured in a serious automobile or truck accident, then you need a good attorney on your side, fighting for your rights. You want the attorneys at the Houston based law firm of VB Attorneys. We are not intimidated by powerful manufacturers and insurance companies looking out for their own best interests. If you or someone you love has been injured or killed in an auto accident or by a defective or dangerous product, contact the attorneys at VB Attorneys today