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USA Falling Behind in Automobile Safety

Some of us who live in the U.S. think of our nation as overly regulated, especially when it comes to safety precautions. Workplace safety should be of paramount concern, however, and OSHA can impose fines and sanctions against companies that fail to meet certain safety standards. There are also strict standards regarding product safety that most people accept as necessary. But when it comes to certain areas of our lives, we seem to balk at what some consider to be unreasonable restraints on our freedoms. One of these concerns automobile safety.

As Americans, we seem to love the freedom of our cars. Call it the frontier spirit that still influences our attitudes, having come from a long tradition of distrusting what is perceived as government intrusion into certain areas of our lives. But this can be a dangerous way of thinking.

Our country lags far behind other industrialized nations when it comes to traffic accidents and traffic-related fatalities. To give it some perspective, our highway fatality rate is 40 times higher than Canada’s and Australia’s. We suffer an average of around 30,000 highway deaths per year (2016 saw 40,000 deaths) compared to under 2,000 in Great Britain. Even allowing for the disparity in population, you are 3 times more likely to be in a fatal accident here than in other countries.

Why are American Highways Unsafe?

Speed and Alcohol

Of course, our distances are far greater than in most other countries, but not Canada and Australia!  But the main determinant or factor as to why our roads are more dangerous is speed, which accounts for one-third of traffic deaths according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association. Drive on any freeway and you will notice that most cars are traveling 10 to 15 mph above the limit and a fair number even higher. Rural areas have higher fatality rates since many of these accidents combine speed with alcohol. Many countries do not allow drivers under 17 to drive while we encourage it. They also have much stricter drunk driving laws.

Despite countless campaigns against drunk driving, more people are dying in alcohol-related accidents than ever before. In 2015, 10,265 persons died in drunk driving accidents, an increase of 300 over 2014. In 2016, an average of 28 people per day were killed by drunk drivers.

Seatbelt and Helmet Laws

Although the average for national seatbelt usage is high, there are still 1 in 7 drivers who do not wear them. Our state ranks 48th overall in seatbelt use, over 20 percent behind the national average. By not wearing a seatbelt, you risk being ejected from a car, which substantially increases your risk of dying, or becoming a projectile and striking the passengers in your car. You are also more likely to lose control of a vehicle in a collision.

Despite the consensus that motorcycle helmets and wearing seatbelts save lives, some states do not require bikers to wear helmets and others only treat seatbelt violations as secondary offenses, meaning an officer can only cite you for not wearing a seatbelt if you were first stopped for some other traffic violation. Our sister state, New Hampshire, does not require adults to wear seatbelts at all; or helmets for motorcycle riders.

Texting and Smartphone Use

States appear reluctant to pass strict texting and driving laws with only 14 states prohibiting all drivers from using hand-held devices while driving. Massachusetts has yet to join this select group though Governor Baker has urged lawmakers to pass a current bill that would ban use of hand-held phones or other devices.

Of the 2.5 million auto accidents in the U.S. each year, about 1.6 million involve use of a cellphone. The NHTSA and other safety organizations report that you are 23 times more likely to be in an accident if texting. It is also 6 times more likely to get you in an accident than drunk driving.

Poor Highway Design

Another obstacle to safer highways are the roadways themselves. Most were built when traffic was far less dense and before higher performance cars became so numerous.

How Can We Be Safer?

We need a Massachusetts safety awareness program that emphasizes the dangers drivers and pedestrians face on our roadways. Although there are often safety campaigns at certain times, especially during holiday seasons, it seems a permanent one is needed.

Drunk driving laws are as strict as ever and many people rely on their own transportation to get to and from work since alternatives are not available in many areas. But increased enforcement may be necessary so long as civil rights are not protected. Cars could have ignition interlock devices or built-in breathalyzers installed so that they will not start if the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is at a certain level. Encouraging taxi or ride-share use if you plan to drink outside the home is another way to decrease drunk drivers on the road.

Regarding speed and pedestrian safety, we should take lessons from other countries. Sweden, for instance, has a “Vision Zero” plan, designed to bring the number of auto fatalities to zero. They have built pedestrian bridges, barriers between bicycle lanes and auto traffic, and widely visible crosswalks with flashing lights. Strict enforcement of drinking and driving have resulted in less than a quarter of drivers tested being over the legal limit. More enforcement of the speed laws may also be necessary as well.

Many cities have implemented changes including re-designing dangerous intersections, reducing speeds in urban areas, installing bike lanes, and installing traffic calming measures.

However, what may ultimately save us is the advent of the self-driving car. Google, Tesla, Uber and other companies are racing to test these vehicles and many observers feel we are less than a decade away before they become ubiquitous. Human error is the greatest danger to highway safety and we may well see Sweden’s “Vision Zero” program become a reality when autonomous vehicles become the norm on our roadways. Of course, that may well put your car accident lawyer out of business, at least in this area of the law. But will anyone be crying?

Damages in a Car Accident Claim

Damages in a car accident injury claim vary depending on the severity of your injuries and how they have impacted your life. Typical damages in an injury claim include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future income loss
  • Decreased earning capacity
  • Permanent disability
  • Permanent disfigurement
  • Cost of vocational rehabilitation
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

Contact a car accident lawyer at the Law Office of Burns and Jain. With decades of experience in handling the most complex injury claims, you can be assured that your car accident lawyer will handle your claim with integrity and professionalism in getting you the most compensation for your claim.