Why Fewer Are Killed In Car Crashes

Monday, December 20th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal explores why fewer people are getting killed in car crashes:

Technology deserves some credit, according to the data. Deaths in side-impact crashes declined between 2005 and 2008 at a faster rate than the decline for deaths overall. That suggests that side airbags are helping more people survive crashes, the researchers found.

The Michigan study found a nearly 20% decline in deaths among young drivers, age 16 to 25. Among the possible reasons: the increasing number of states that use graduated licensing programs that delay granting full driving privileges until teens have more experience, and rising teen joblessness.

The exact role of the economy in declining highway deaths is a big unknown. Messrs. Sivak and Schoettle highlight pieces of data that suggest that as the economy slowed down, so did motorists.

The number of deadly accidents in which there was no evidence that the driver swerved to avoid the crash, an indicator of excess speed, dropped by more than 20% between 2005 and 2008, according to federal data. (The number of such crashes is still quite high — nearly 23,000 in all for 2008.)

“The slower the speed, the more likely an avoidance maneuver is possible,” the researchers wrote.

Fatal accidents during rush hours also declined more sharply than overall deaths. The 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. morning rush claimed 3,236 lives nationwide in 2008, down 16.7% from 2005. Deaths between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. fell by nearly 18%. The deadliest hours on the road? The period between 6 p.m. and 8:59 p.m. — still the rush hour in many cities. In 2008, 5,342 people died in crashes during those hours, down 13.1% from 2005.

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