Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Highway fatality rates drop to lowest level since 1949

With state after state ramping up DWI enforcement and dreaming up new ways to violate motorists' rights comes news that the rate of traffic fatalities per 100 million miles has fallen to its lowest rate since 1949. In 2009 there were 33,808 traffic fatalities in the United States, last year that number dropped to 32,788 - despite an increase in the number of miles driven.

But those numbers are doubly interesting because of another NHTSA report I wrote about last December. That report stated that 45,230 motorists were involved in fatality accidents in 2009. It seems like NHTSA's playing around with its numbers. The prior report counted everyone involved in a traffic fatality accident -- regardless of whether or not they were responsible for the accident or injured or killed in the accident.

Some may point to the drop in fatalities as proof that stricter DWI enforcement (and gutting of the 4th Amendment) is working. Any such conclusion is not supported by the evidence, however. Safer cars and the increased use of seatbelts have played a large role in reducing the number of highways deaths. According to the report:

NHTSA has also taken action to improve vehicle safety. The agency has urged automakers to swiftly and voluntarily report safety defects to keep the driving public safe. NHTSA has also encouraged the development and use of technologies to prevent crashes, such as electronic stability control, forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems. The agency also unveiled an updated 5-star rating system in 2010, which established more rigorous crash-test standards and began providing consumers with improved information about which cars perform best in collisions. 
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has also been encouraging the use of Safety Edge technology -- which reduces drivers' risk of running off the road by shaping pavement edge -- on new road and highway projects. FHWA has also promoted the use of rumble strips and cable median barriers to separate opposing directions of traffic to reduce the incidence of crossover head-on collisions.

The rate of highway fatalities decreased the most in the Pacific Northwest and in California/Arizona. Areas in the South where the assault on the Fourth Amendment has been more pronounced saw a much smaller drop in highway deaths.

The fact remains that most DWI stops involve driving behavior that an officer wouldn't think twice about during daylight hours. How many people do you see on the roads everyday that don't signal each and every turn and lane change? How many of y'all do? How many folks get pulled over for malfunctioning lights or turn signals during the day?

The roads are safer today than they've ever been. Too bad we can't say the same about the Bill of Rights.

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