The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently published motor vehicle accident data compiled for 2018. The report reflects that traffic fatalities in the United States decreased by 2.4% from 2017. More good news: fatal drunk driving accidents in Florida dropped by 3%. While these figures reflect some recent improvement, we have a long way to go towards increasing traffic safety.
In 2018, 36,560 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents. To put that in perspective, approximately 58,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in the twenty year war in Vietnam. In Florida, 3,133 people died in traffic accidents in 2018. A whopping 26% of those fatalities involved impaired drivers.
While nearly every category of vehicle accidents reflected a decrease in fatalities, fatal accidents involving semi trucks, eighteen wheelers and other large trucks increased by nearly 1%, fatal accidents with pedestrians increased by 3.4%, and fatal accidents with bicyclists increased by 6.3%. No explanation was provided for the precipitous increase in pedestrian and bicycle accidents.
For the last 40 years, traffic fatalities in the United States have steadily fallen. Credit for the decrease is attributed to: the manufacture of safer vehicles including the use of airbags; the increased use of seat belts; and enforcement efforts to decrease driving under the influence.
Almost half of traffic fatalities involved persons who were not wearing seat belts despite the fact that approximately 90% of vehicle occupants do wear seat belts. This extremely disproportionate number of fatalities for unrestrained drivers highlight the effectiveness of seat belts. In other words, if seat belts were not effective, it would be expected that roughly 90% of traffic fatalities involved seatbelted occupants instead of only 54%.
Several measures can be taken to further decrease traffic fatalities including: 1. increasing the awareness of the effectiveness of seat belts; 2. decreasing distracted driving, especially cell phone use, texting and social media use; and 3. increasing the enforcement of impaired driving laws. The day will come when we look back at the carnage on our roadways and wonder how we put up with it. That day cannot come soon enough.