How Much Are New Safety Features in Cars Actually Improving Safety?

Americans have long enjoyed a love affair with the automobile, often associating cars with a personal sense of style and freedom. Cars allow us to enjoy the pleasures of travel with an ease that could not have been imagined before their invention. Motor vehicles also provide numerous benefits to society. Professionals and laborers alike can offer their services in a wider geographical area. Many types of vehicles, including automobiles and semi-trucks, are instrumental in commerce, traversing both Oregon and the United States. However, there is, unfortunately, also a negative side. Thousands of deaths and injuries occur every year as a result of automobile crashes. Through the years, as the power of automobile engines increased, so did the ability to travel at higher speeds, sometimes resulting in dangerous collisions. Luckily, steps have been taken to improve car safety. In this article, we will explore some of these improvements and look at whether they have actually helped improve personal safety.

What Led to Safety Changes?

There are many forces which have led to improvements in automobile safety. Certainly, manufacturers made many changes on their own. However, people sometimes thought these voluntary changes didn’t go far enough, and that the manufacturers’ motives were sometimes restrained by profit motivations. Thus, the government certainly played a role by requiring cars to meet certain safety standards. Automobile crash victims have also played an important role, with the help of their attorneys, by filing lawsuits and holding manufacturers responsible for their wrongdoing under negligence and products liability theories. Many of these lawsuits led manufacturers to make safety changes.

Examples of Safety Improvements

Numerous safety improvements have been made through the years, and the automobile industry continues to innovate. Some safety innovations seem like they have been around forever, although some of us can actually remember the introduction of long-standing improvements. Below are some examples:

  • Seatbelts – as hard as it might be to believe today, cars did not always have seatbelts. Moreover, even after seatbelts were installed, they didn’t always include a shoulder harness.
  • Anti-lock brakes – by braking in quick intervals (akin to pumping the brakes rapidly), anti-lock brakes reduce the chance of skidding out of control.
  • Safety glass – special windshield glass is designed to break into small, round pieces, instead of sharp, jagged pieces of glass.
  • Airbags
  • Crumple zones – rear and front bumpers are designed to crumple, which dissipates energy from the impact of a crash.
  • Back-up cameras
  • Engine engineering – engines are designed to be directed underneath the passenger compartment of the car upon impact. This helps reduce the chance of crush injuries to passengers.

These are only a few of the myriad number of improvements seen through the years.

Assessing the Effects of Safety Improvements

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 35,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2015. The good news is that there are positive trends. To account for population growth and varied distances driven per driver, one way to fairly consider the change in fatality rates between time periods is to consider fatalities in light of the population and per mile driven. Using this metric, fatalities from automobile crashes have decreased almost 50% since 1975. However, starting around 2009, the numbers have leveled out somewhat (meaning the rate of improvement has slowed). In fact, numbers in 2015 were worse than 2014. Hopefully, this is only a blip in the data. At any rate, it seems fair to conclude that safety has improved. Of course, some of these changes could be traced to other factors, such as driver education, improved roads, and laws addressing driver safety (rather than manufacturer safety), such as speed limit laws, and laws requiring the use of seatbelts.

Contact Us with Your Questions

Thankfully, meaningful steps continue to be taken to improve automobile safety. Nevertheless, crashes from the negligent and intentional actions of others continue to cause many injuries and deaths. Only by holding these wrongdoers responsible can we continue to improve safety for all of us. If you’ve been injured as the result of a malfunctioning vehicle, or as the result of another driver, please feel free to contact the experienced lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield with your questions. 


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