A Brief History
On August 17, 1966, the US Congress passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which in conjunction with the Highway Safety Act has greatly reduced traffic injuries and deaths in the United States.
In 1966, traffic deaths in the US reached a staggering 50,894, or 25.9 traffic deaths per 100,000 population, both records at the time. The creation of the National Highway Safety Bureau (later changed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and implementation of safety measures concerning the building and marking of roads, the performance and safety features of cars, and a reduction in driver induced error (such as drunk or distracted driving) became a national standardized approach to the traffic danger problem.
Results took a little while to implement and pay dividends, and fatalities remained high, and even grew until 1974. Of course, the population and the amount of cars on the road were greatly increasing as well. By 2013 traffic deaths in the US had decreased to 32,719, a rate of only 10.3 per 100,000 population, the lowest number since 1949 when only a fraction as many cars were on the road (74 million cars on US roads in 1960, over 254 million today!).
Some of the life saving measures include seat belts, head restraints, collapsing steering columns, side protection beams, safety glass, better brakes (including anti-lock), better tires, airbags, child safety seats, improved headlights, side marker lights and government rating of a car’s performance in a crash are some of the improved safety features of cars. Improved marking of roads, increased use of road reflectors, breakaway sign posts, improved guardrails, rest areas, reflective paint striping of centerlines and edge lines, center dividing barriers, and improved lighting are some of the road improvements made to increase safety. In some places you will find rumble strips to warn drivers of dangerous curves, or that they have strayed past the limit of the right or left of their lane. Some roads are grooved to reduce sliding and skidding when wet. Increased use of salt and other melting agents keep roads more clear of ice and snow than used to be the case.
Human factors addressed include driver education and better testing standards for new drivers, increased enforcement of drunk driving laws, addressing new technologies such as cell phones with bans on texting while driving or even in some places their use while driving. Truckers are now highly regulated regarding their driving patterns, rest time and other factors. Public service announcements about distracted and impaired driving are common, as are warnings against road rage, and motorists are encouraged to call the police from their cell phone if they spot a drunk or dangerous driver.
Libertarians and some others complain that adding a bunch of safety features to cars drives up the price, and that the market alone should dictate what features are added or deleted. It seems this approach in the past did not work, while the regulation approach is working. Question for students (and subscribers): What do you think? Should the government dictate all these physical and behavior changes to increase safety, or is it your own private business? Let us know what you think in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Anonymous. National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 : legislative history. University of Michigan Library, 1985.