Automobile safety in the United States has advanced light-years since 1972, when 54,589 people died in automobile crashes on U.S. roads. Since that deadly year, improvements in safety features have saved countless lives and reduced untold injuries. And yet, despite those extra features, going for a ride in an automobile continues to be by far the most dangerous thing the majority of Americans are going to do on any given day. In 2017, more than 37,130 people died in crashes on our roads.

Consumer Reports recently released “Road Report: How to Stay Safe in a Crash.” The article looks at the disturbing numbers of deaths on U.S. roadways and examines the three top factors affecting automobile safety: the vehicles, the roads and the drivers.

In the United States, there are about 12 roadway deaths per 100,000 people, whereas in much of Western Europe, there are fewer than five — and in Sweden, fewer than three. (At about 10 deaths per 100,000, Virginia is somewhat below the national average.)

What is the U.S. doing to reduce the number of highway fatalities?

Safety measures are rapidly improving. Many groups, including the National Transportation Safety Board, are calling for all new cars to be installed with updated crash-avoidance technology, such as forward collision warnings, lane departure warnings and automated emergency braking. Advances in vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication show promise that, eventually, cars will be able to communicate with each other. And the eventual introduction of self-driving cars will go a long way in eliminating crashes, safety advocates contend.

Poorly designed roads also play a significant role in traffic fatalities. Every American town, it seems, has its own version of a “dead man’s curve.” Improving and upgrading unsafe roadways and making city streets safer can save lives. Some U.S. communities, including Richmond, are participating in the Vision Zero initiative, a multinational traffic safety project that began in Sweden. The initiative seeks to eliminate road fatalities and crashes while improving pedestrian and bicycle safety measures.

But, as we have long maintained on this page, all the improvements in driver safety and road conditions will only reduce fatalities so much as long as driver error and inattention continue to remain significant problems. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, human error accounts for nine out of every 10 crashes. And distracted driving only seems to be on the rise. That’s one reason we were so disappointed the General Assembly failed to pass a statewide bill that would ban motorists from holding cellphones while driving.

If you don’t have a hands-free device, put your phone down and remain alert while driving. It’s an old cliche, but the life you save might indeed be your own.

— Robin Beres

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