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With 2015 rise in traffic deaths, safety tech should be standard

In the U.S., the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents has been trending downward since the 1970s. Much of that reduction has traditionally been attributed to a combination of multiple factors. The government and insurance companies began running safety tests on cars and reporting the results to both the manufacturers and the public. Roadway design has become safer. Highway and interstate speed limits were implemented across the nation. Seatbelts were made standard.

That downward trend in traffic fatalities has not been a smooth slope, however. Instead, there have been spikes and dips over the decades -- and 2015 turned out to be one of the deadliest years on record. It was also the first year in which Americans drover more than 3.1 trillion miles.

What can be done to reduce traffic fatalities?

A lot has happened since the advent of the seatbelt. Today's vehicle safety features are more technological, involving cameras and sensors. Rear-facing cameras can keep us from backing over someone behind us. Forward-facing sensors can help prevent rear-end collisions, or actually apply the brakes for you. There is a system to keep you from drifting into another lane and another to maintain your distance while you're on cruise control.

These features are available from every major carmaker. Unfortunately, they're not standard equipment. Some high-end vehicles have them, but for the most part they're only available as an expensive optional package.

The National Transportation Safety Board wants this life-saving technology to be standard on every new vehicle sold in the U.S. Why isn't that happening?

The NTSB is a federal agency, but it has no power to create new regulations. It can only urge manufacturers to make the change, and those manufacturers are concerned.

Not only would making the technology standard increase the cost of new cars and trucks, but it could also be a problem for less-affluent consumers, who might not be able to afford the transition from older cars to newer ones with the safety tech.

The chairman of the NTSB had this to say about standardizing the equipment: "It can save tens of thousands of lives a year."

Weighing cost against the possibility of a serious or fatal accident is tough. If you've been in a major crash, though, you already know the difference crash safety innovation can make.

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