Increased Driver Deaths Connected To Improving Economy

July 31, 2017

People who crash while driving a late-model vehicle are more likely to die. This finding came from a recent study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The improving economy and more dangerous driving practices contribute to this problem. IIHS researchers said that they do not expect traffic deaths to decrease significantly in the near future since the economy is expected to continue improving and more people are on the road. 

Late-model Death Rates
For registered 2014 vehicle models, the human death rate was 30 out of 1 million. The number for 2011 models was 28 per million. Death rates for specific vehicles varied considerably. For example, the death rate for the Hyundai Accent was 104 per million, and it was a single-digit number for some other vehicles. When IIHS conducted its last study on driver fatalities, the death rate had decreased by over 30 percent. Although improvements have happened, they are not enough to decrease traffic deaths. Current IIHS statistics were collected from 2012 through 2015.

Falling Unemployment
Since the early 1970s, traffic deaths have been slowly decreasing. There was a larger dip in 2008 following the start of a lengthy economic downturn. In 2015, deaths rose almost 10 percent from the past two years. The rate increased again in 2016, and researchers may find another increase at the end of 2017. IIHS researchers said that the major downside to an improving economy is more people on the road, which means more traffic injuries and deaths. People tend to drive more for work and pleasure when the economy is better and gas prices are lower. Also, they tend to make riskier decisions such as speeding or texting while driving. 

IIHS researchers designed a statistical model to determine how driving death rates may increase in the future. Their model used unemployment data and crash statistics that go back as far as 1990. Also, the model takes safety features and vehicle years into account. The researchers found a positive connection between falling employment rates and decreasing traffic deaths. Fatalities were calculated using a ratio rather than total numbers to ensure uniform comparison. Although researchers expect to see rates rise in the near future, their statistical model shows a decrease to 34,400 deaths in 2024. There were over 35,000 deaths in 2015. Researchers noted that their predictions would change if unemployment increased or decreased more than expected.

With crash avoidance technologies improving and appearing in more vehicles today, there is a possibility of crash rates decreasing. There are also autonomous vehicles in development, and the widespread use of those someday could reduce crash rates considerably. However, researchers do not expect to see these vehicles on the roads for several decades. There will still be some vehicles with partial automation sharing the roads with older vehicles. While such vehicles may be less likely to cause a crash, distracted drivers in vehicles with fewer safety features and no automation could still crash into the safer cars. To learn more about the future of safety on the roads, speak with an agent.

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