Traffic deaths have declined in wealthy and developed countries around the globe over the last two decades. However, in the U.S., the trend has gone in the opposite direction, according to a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times. Our inability to keep pace with other countries when it comes to traffic safety should concern drivers in Texas and throughout the nation.
Here, we take a closer look at how the safety of our roads compares with other countries. We also examine reasons why the U.S. lags behind others in preventing car accidents. As you will see, driver negligence contributes heavily to the problem. Our law firm believes that changing drivers’ attitudes and making them pay for their careless and reckless choices play a major part in the solution.
How Does Driving in the U.S. Compare to Other Countries?
In the New York Times column, writer David Leonhardt relies entirely on Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) data to argue that the U.S. is not keeping up with other countries. He specifically looks at vehicle fatality rates. The rate reflects the number of traffic accident deaths per vehicles miles traveled. The OECD calculates rates based on a billion vehicle miles traveled.
As recently as 1990 Leonhardt notes, America’s vehicle fatality rate was 10 percent lower than Canada and Australia – countries with economies, demographics and infrastructure that are similar to the United States. Today, the U.S. vehicle fatality rate is 40 percent higher than those two countries. In fact, even Slovenia has a lower rate.
The most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that the problem has grown worse. In October, the NHTSA released its final traffic crash data from 2016. According to the NHTSA, a total of 37,461 people died in car, truck and motorcycle accidents in the U.S. in 2016, or 5.6 percent more deaths than in 2015. Additionally, the country had a fatality rate of 1.18 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, or a 2.6 percent spike from the year before.
For Texas, the numbers were not very encouraging. The NHTSA reports that 3,776 people lost their lives in traffic crashes in our state in 2016 – the highest total in the country and 5.4 percent more than in 2015.
“Had the United States kept pace with the rest of the world, about 10,000 fewer Americans each year – or almost 30 every day – would be killed,” Leonhardt writes. “Instead, more people die in crashes than from gun violence.”
Why is Driving so Dangerous in America?
We drive more today than ever before. The NHTSA reports that the number of vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. actually increased by 2.2 percent in 2016. You can thank a healthy economy and relatively low gas prices for the rise in traffic on our roads, according to the National Safety Council.
When more people drive, more car accidents occur, right? Well, statistically, this may be true. However, it is too easy to blame a rise in our traffic death toll on the simple fact that more people are on the roads.
The reality is that more people are making bad decisions when they get behind the wheel. In fact, the NHTSA states that 94 percent of serious crashes in the U.S. are linked to “human choices.” Let’s look at some of those choices:
When you drive too fast, you can lose control of your car. You also lack the time and braking distance to swerve or stop on time in order to avoid a collision. It is no wonder that excessive speed contributes to a high number of crashes every year in Texas and throughout the country. In fact, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reports that speed factored into more than 26,000 crashes in our state in 2016, including 662 fatal wrecks.
High speed limits do not help. A good example is the “Pickle Parkway,” or Texas State Highway 130. It features a stretch of road with the highest speed limit in the country at 85 mph. As this KHOU report suggests, people tend to driver faster than posted speed limits. If the speed limit is already high, it can lead to people hitting outrageous speeds.
If you allow any type of distraction to take your focus off the road and safely operating your car, you greatly increase your risk of getting into a crash. Unfortunately, people succumb to these distractions all of the time. TxDOT figures show that 455 people died in distracted driving accidents in 2016.
The good news: States throughout the country have passed laws that are designed to prevent distracted driving – specifically, the use of electronic devices like cell phones. Texas has followed the trend. Our state recently enacted a texting while driving ban.
In reality, police and prosecutors have a tough time with enforcing these laws. However, the laws hopefully encourage people to think twice before they pick up a phone when they are behind the wheel and put themselves and others in danger.
If you drink any amount of alcohol, you lose the ability to drive safely. Alcohol affects your motor skills, slows your reaction time and impairs your judgment. You are more likely to make sloppy mistakes and careless decisions like driving through a red light or crossing the center line. Drunk driving, on average, contributes to about 25 percent of traffic deaths in Texas each year, according to TxDOT figures.
Repeat DWI offenders are a major problem. These are drivers who simply refuse to follow the law and use common sense. Hopefully, laws such as HB 3016 will give drunk drivers an incentive to avoid repeating their mistakes and drive sober. The law allows certain first-time DWI offenders to get the conviction removed from their record if they use an ignition interlock device and comply with other requirements, KBTX explains.
Many people overlook the fact that driving while sleepy or fatigued can actually be just as dangerous as driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that drowsy driving affects your ability to pay attention, react in a timely manner and make good decisions.
The drivers who are most likely to drive while drowsy are commercial truck drivers, people who work long shifts or night shifts and users of certain types of medications such as opioids. Employers and health care providers, in this sense, could play a key role in preventing these types of crashes by educating workers and patients about the dangers of drowsy driving.
Seat Belt Use
More than 40 percent of the people who died in auto accidents in Texas in 2016 did not wear a seat belt at the time of the crash, according to TxDOT. The bottom line: Seat belts save lives. Every driver must make sure to buckle up when they get into a car as a driver or passenger. We also need to make sure that we put our young children in proper child safety seats.
America’s infrastructure faces real problems at the moment. Infrastructure includes everything from roads and bridges to traffic lights and drainage construction. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. a “D” grade on its annual infrastructure report card. The report found that two-fifths of urban roadways are overcrowded and unsafe. We can all help to solve this problem by putting pressure on lawmakers to provide adequate funding for infrastructure improvements.
Technology Helps, But It Won’t Entirely Solve the Problem
In his New York Times column, Leonhardt suggests that advances in auto safety technology will help the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the developed world in reducing driver deaths. He argues that “sophisticated crash-avoidance systems” and driverless cars will help Americans to “overcome self-destructive behavior.” He is right – to a degree.
However, we cannot rely solely on technology to solve our traffic safety problems. We need to continue to raise awareness about dangerous driving behavior, pass and enforce laws that encourage safe driving and punish those who refuse to respect the safety of themselves and others. In other words, we cannot try to bypass our “self-destructive behavior.” Instead, we need to confront it head-on.
At Tate Law Offices, P.C., our experienced Texas car accident lawyers play our role by holding negligent drivers accountable for the harm they cause. Above all, we aggressively pursue the highest amount of compensation for those who have suffered injuries or lost a loved one because of the negligence of others. Our record of case results shows our ability to maximize the value of our clients’ cases.
We take the stress off car accident victims and their families by offering free consultations and by charging no upfront costs and fees. We only receive payment if we secure a financial recovery for our clients.
If you or a family member recently suffered injuries in a car accident that another driver caused, contact us to discuss your case and learn more about how we can help you. We can review your case today through our offices in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.