The good news is that traffic fatalities are on the decline -- in fact, the most recent stats are among the lowest ever recorded.
The bad news? The improvement is largely due to better safety features in today's automobiles, not better driving habits. According to a report published by the Governors Highway Safety Association, speeding and aggressive driving are hampering efforts to reduce the fatality rate further.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 32,885 people lost their lives on U.S. roads in 2010 -- a figure so low, it's on par with stats from the 1950s. When we take into consideration the billions of miles auto passengers traveled in 2010, the statistics become even more impressive: America had 1.1 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles that year, the lowest on record.
But as anyone who's ever lost a friend or family member in an auto accident can attest, 32,885 fatalities is still far too many. Efforts are underway to bring the figure down -- in fact, the number of non-safety belt users killed in auto accidents has dropped 23% since the year 2000. Slight progress has been made on the drinking-and-driving front, too, with alcohol-impairment a factor in 3% fewer accidents since 2000.
One area that remains a major problem, though, is speeding. In fact, of the 32,885 people killed in 2010, roughly 1/3 -- 10,530, to be precise -- were killed in crashes caused by speeding. According to the GHSA, speeding stats haven't improved in over 30 years.
The GHSA's new report, Survey of the States: Speeding and Aggressive Driving, surveyed highway safety offices across the country to see what's being done to address this problem. The findings aren't particularly encouraging:
- Just two states have increased fines for speeding since 2005, and one of those -- Wyoming -- applies those fines only to drivers of commercial vehicles.
- Indiana is the only state to enact aggressive-driving legislation since 2005, making it one of just 11 states in the U.S. to have such a law on the books.
- On the other hand, seven states have boosted speed limits to as high as 85 mph over the past seven years.
The government officials surveyed for the report cite numerous reasons for the lack of attention to the speeding problem. Chief among them? Public indifference to the issue of speeding and a lack of personnel to enforce speed limits. (Apparently, those controversial speed cams aren't doing much to curb the problem, either.)
The GHSA suggests that states consider adopting laws against aggressive driving, since the public tends to understand the dangers associated with that kind of behavior. The GHSA also suggests that states beef up enforcement of speed zones around schools and construction areas, as the public is often sympathetic to these, too.
If you've got some time on your hands this Friday, have a look at the GHSA's full report, Survey of the States: Speeding and Aggressive Driving, which can be downloaded as a PDF.