Despite the constant warnings of the dangers of drunk and distracted driving, recently released data from traffic safety officials reports that traffic fatalities dropped in 2010, marking the fifth consecutive year of such a decline. In general, auto accident deaths have been on the decline for several decades, likely due to vehicle safety improvements and an increase in driver awareness. However, the data shows, bicycle and pedestrian injuries and deaths have remained steady.
On California roads in 2010, one person was killed per every 100 million miles traveled in the state. This is a significant increase from 1933, when drivers were 15 times more likely to suffer a car accident-related fatality. In a more recent and relevant comparison, motorists were three and two times more likely to be killed in a car accident in 1980 and 1990 than today, respectively.
What's the reason for the decline? Researchers are still not quite sure. Certainly, safety innovations such as seat belts and air bags have a lot to do with it. An independent study, in which surveyors actually looked into cars, reported that over 96 percent of California drivers wear seat belts. In addition, stricter enforcement of drunk driving laws is also a possible reason.
However, officials report that drunk driving and speeding continue to be the top causes of car accidents in California, despite laws and public awareness campaigns aimed at discouraging both. This has led many to believe that the gains we've made in safer cars and roads and faster ambulance response have been cancelled out by driving under the influence alcohol and drugs and texting behind the wheel.
It seems that only time will tell whether the decline in car crash deaths will continue, or whether the increasing opportunities for distracted driving will reverse the trend.
Source: Sacramento Bee, "Believe it or not, California driving is safer than ever," Tony Bizjak, 25 July 2011