The cost and crashworthiness of vehicles as well as drivers’ safety habits affect the cost of auto insurance. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 33,561 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012, up 3.3 percent from 32,479 in 2011. 2012 marked the first year-to-year increase in motor vehicle crash fatalities since 2005. Out of concern for public safety and to help reduce the cost of crashes, insurers support safe driving initiatives. In 1969 the insurance industry created the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an organization best known for its vehicle crashworthiness testing program. In the 1970s the industry began the campaign to get auto manufacturers to make air bags standard equipment in vehicles. It is a major supporter of antidrunk driving and seatbelt usage campaigns. Drivers themselves have also contributed to the reduction in crash-related fatalities by demanding safer vehicles. Eighty-six percent of respondents in a February 2010 IIHS survey said that safety is a very important consideration when buying a new car. Only 2 percent said it is not important.
FATALITIES AND INJURIES
- 2013: A statistical projection released by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Center for Statistics and Analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that motor vehicle crash fatalities for the first half of 2013 fell about 4.2 percent from a year ago. Crash fatalities have been steadily decreasing since a significant increase was recorded in the first quarter of 2012.
- 2012: According to a NHTSA report traffic fatalities rose 3.3 percent in 2012 to 33,561 from 32,479 in 2011. 2012 was the first year with a year-to-year increase in fatalities since 2005.
- In 2012 an estimated 2,362,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes, up 6.5 percent from 2,217,000 in 2011 according to a NHTSA report.
- Work-Related: In 2012 crashes involving vehicles on public roadways were the leading cause of work-related fatalities, accounting for 24 percent of all workplace fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- By Age Group: According to NHTSA, in 2012 people 65 and older made up 17 percent of all traffic fatalities. (See Older Drivers paper.) In 2011 (latest data available) there were 35 million older licensed drivers, up 21 percent from 2002. The total number of drivers rose 9 percent from 2002 to 2011.
- In 2012 drivers age 15 to 20 accounted for 9 percent of all the drivers involved in fatal crashes and 13 percent of all the drivers involved in all police-reported crashes. In 2012 drivers in this age group accounted for 6 percent of all licensed drivers. (See Teen Driving paper).
- According to NHTSA, the economic cost of motor vehicle crashes (police-reported and unreported) totaled $277 billion in 2010, amounting to almost $897 for every person living in the United States and for 1.9 percent of the U.S Gross Domestic Product. These costs include medical, lost productivity, legal, emergency service, insurance administration, property damage, workplace and other. The study was released in May 2014.
- Quality of life valuations from motor vehicle crashes added $594 billion to the cost, bringing the total to $871 billion.
- Property damage costs of $76.2 billion accounted for 28 percent of total economic costs. Lost productivity costs were $70.2 billion, or 25 percent of the economic cost. Medical costs, both present and future, accounted for $34.9 billion, or 13 percent, of the economic cost.
- By behavior, alcohol involvement cost $59.4 billion, or 21 percent of economic costs. Speeding cost $59.1 billion, or 21 percent, and distracted-driving crashes cost $45.8 billion, or 17 percent of economic costs. Not using seatbelts accounted for $13.8 billion, or 5 percent of these costs.
By Driver Behavior
- Speeding: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2012, 10,219 lives were lost due to speed-related accidents, up 2 percent from 10,001 in 2011. Speeding was a contributing factor in 30 percent of all fatal crashes in 2012. In 2012, 37 percent of both 15- to 20-year-old and 21-to 24-year old male drivers who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash. NHTSA says that speed-related crashes cost Americans $40.4 billion each year.
- According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) research, as of June 2014, 38 states had a top speed limit of at least 70 miles per hour on some portion of their highways.
- Drunk Driving: In 2012, 10,322 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes [any fatal crash involving a driver with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher], up 4.6 percent from 9,865 in 2011. 2012 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 31 percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States. (See Drunk Driving, Insurance Issues Updates.)
- Drunk Driving and Speeding: In 2012, 42 percent of intoxicated drivers (with a BAC at or above 0.08 percent) involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared with 16 percent of sober drivers.
- Red Light Running: The IIHS says that more than 900 people a year die and nearly 2,000 are injured as a result of vehicles running red lights. About half of those deaths are pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles who are hit by red light runners. (See Other Safety Issues, Red Light Cameras, below.)
- Fatigue: An AAA Traffic Safety Foundation study found that 37 percent of drivers report having fallen asleep behind the wheel at some point in their lives. An estimated 21 percent of fatal crashes, 13 percent of crashes resulting in severe injury and 6 percent of all crashes, involve a drowsy driver, according to a 2014 study by the AAA.
- Results of a survey released in November 2013 conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that more than a quarter (28.3 percent) of licensed drivers age 16 or older said that in the past 30 days they had driven when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.
- Distracted Driving: Activities that take drivers’ attention off the road, including talking or texting on cellphones, eating, conversing with passengers and other distractions, are a major safety threat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gauges distracted driving by collecting data on “distraction-affected crashes,” which focuses on distractions that are most likely to affect crash involvement such as dialing a cellphone or texting and being distracted by another person or an outside event. In 2012, 3,328 people were killed in distraction-affected crashes and 421,000 people were injured. In 2012, there were 3,050 distraction-affected fatal crashes, about the same as the 3,047 that occurred in 2011. The 3,050 distraction-affected fatal crashes in 2012 accounted for 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the nation, 18 percent of injury crashes and 16 percent of all motor vehicle crashes.
- Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. Besides using a cellphone or smartphone for texting or talking, distracted driving includes mobile Internet use such as emailing or accessing social media such as Facebook. However, NHTSA says that the biggest driver distractions are reaching for objects and talking to passengers. Other distractions include eating and drinking, grooming, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, watching a video or adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player. An analysis of NHTSA data on the more than 65,000 people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2010 and 2011, conducted by Erie Insurance, found that 62 percent of distracted drivers were daydreaming or lost in thought, while 12 percent were texting or talking on a cellphone.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention latest Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, released in June 2014, shows that about 41.4 percent of high school students reported that they texted or emailed from behind the wheel at least once during the previous 30 days. The highest rate of texting or emailing while driving, 61.3 percent, was among teens in South Dakota. The lowest rate, 32.3 percent, was among teens in Massachusetts. The survey is conducted every two years, but this year was the first time the 13,000 participants were asked about texting and emailing while driving.
- Cellphone Use: In April 2014 the National Center for Statistics and Analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released the results of the latest National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), which found that in 2012, 1.5 percent of drivers were text-messaging or visibly manipulating hand-held devices, up from 1.3 percent in 2011. NHTSA says that the 2012 increase was not statistically significant. Driver use of hand-held cellphones was 5 percent in 2012 for the fourth year running. Hand-held cellphone use was highest among 16- to 24-year olds (6 percent in 2012) and lowest among drivers 70 and older (1 percent in 2012). (See also Distracted Driving paper.)
- A State Farm study released in late 2012 found that among drivers age 18 to 29, almost half (48 percent) accessed the Internet on a cellphone while driving. One-third of those drivers (36 percent) read social media networks while driving. Almost half of those drivers (43 percent) checked their email while driving. Other age groups engaged in these activities less frequently.
- Many studies have shown that using hand-held cellphones while driving can constitute a hazardous distraction. In addition, the theory that hands-free sets are safer has been challenged by the findings of several studies. A study from researchers at the University of Utah, published in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors concludes that talking on a cellphone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk, even if the phone is a hands-free model. An earlier study by researchers at the university found that motorists who talked on hands-free cellphones were 18 percent slower in braking and took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked.
- The latest study, conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and released in June 2013, used cameras to track drivers’ eye and head movements along with devices to record driver reaction time and brain activity. Using established research techniques from aviation psychology the researchers assigned a mental distraction rating of 1 to 3 for tasks that drivers performed while driving. Listening to a radio or audio book ranked as a category 1 distraction with minimal risk; talking on a cellphone, both hand-held or hands-free, was a category 2, with moderate risk. Listening and responding to voice activated email increased the drivers’ mental workload and raised distraction levels to category 3, or extensive risk. In April a study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute compared the actual driving performance of 43 drivers without using cellphones, manually texting and using voice-activated texting. Researchers found that driver response times were significantly delayed when texting with both methods, taking drivers about twice as long to react as when not texting.
- A study of California’s law prohibiting drivers from using handheld cellphones showed that overall traffic fatalities fell 22 percent in the two years after the law was enacted in July 2008, compared with the two years before its enactment. Deaths specifically attributed to cellphone use fell 47 percent. The findings of the study, conducted by the University of California at Berkeley, echo an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study from 2010 that found that 44 percent of drivers in states with cellphone bans reported they do not use their phones while driving, compared with 30 percent in states that did not enact the laws. The University of California analysts said their study is the first to use collisions specifically involving cellphone use.
- A survey conducted by Consumer Reports in December 2012 found that laws prohibiting the use of hand-held cellphones or texting while driving help reduce driver distraction. A total of 71 percent of respondents said they had stopped or reduced texting, using a hand-held phone or smartphone while driving in the previous year, and more than half of those said they did so because of state laws banning the use of hand-held phones. Fifty-six percent of respondents in states that have full texting bans reduced or stopped texting, compared with 34 percent of respondents in states with no cellphone bans.
- A National Safety Council (NSC), poll released in April 2014 found that 80 percent of American drivers think that hands-free devices are safer than hand-held. Also, many auto manufacturers include hands-free communications systems in their vehicles, which drivers interpret to mean they are safe. The NSC says that statistics show this is not true. Ninety percent of crashes are caused by driver error and 26 percent of crashes involve mobile phone use, including hands-free devices, which at any moment are being used by 9 percent of drivers.
- Most states have passed laws to address the problem of using a cellphone while driving. Fourteen states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire (effective July 1, 2015), New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington state, West Virginia—and the District of Columbia have a law banning the use of hand-held cellphones behind the wheel for all drivers. The use of all cellphones by novice drivers is restricted in 37 states and the District of Columbia, according to IIHS research. (See also Teen Drivers paper.)
- Washington State was the first state to ban the practice of texting with a cellphone while driving. Text messaging is now banned for all drivers in 44 states and the District of Columbia. However, a 2010 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that texting bans may not reduce crash rates. The study looked at collision claims patterns in four states—California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington—before and after texting bans went into effect. Collisions went up slightly in all the states, except Washington, where the change was statistically insignificant.
- Aggressive Driving: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as occurring when "an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property." A 2009 study by the American Automobile Association attempted to identify behaviors associated with aggressive driving, based on data tracked by the NHTSA’s Fatal Accident Report System (FARS). It found that aggressive driving played a role in 56 percent of fatal crashes from 2003 through 2007, with excessive speed being the number one factor. The following driver-related contributing factors in FARS were taken as indications that crashes may have involved aggressive driving:
- Following improperly
- Improper or erratic lane changing
- Illegal driving on road shoulder, in ditch, or on sidewalk or median
- Passing where prohibited
- Operating the vehicle in an erratic, reckless, careless, or negligent manner or suddenly changing speeds
- Failure to yield right of way
- Failure to obey traffic signs, traffic control devices, or traffic officers, failure to observe safety zone traffic laws
- Failure to observe warnings or instructions on vehicle displaying them
- Failure to signal
- Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted speed limit
- Making an improper turn
- Speeding continues to be the leading aggressive driving behavior. In 2012 driving too fast played a role in 21 percent of fatal crashes, making it the most prevalent factor in fatal crashes, see Chart: DRIVING BEHAVIORS REPORTED FOR DRIVERS AND MOTORCYCLE OPERATORS INVOLVED IN FATAL CRASHES, below.
- Hit and Run Fatalities: The number of fatal hit and run crashes has been rising since 2009, according to a USA Today analysis based on NHTSA data. In 2009 there were 1,274 fatal hit and run crashes, 1,393 in 2010 and 1,449 in 2011. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said that about one in five pedestrian fatalities were caused by hit and run drivers and 60 percent of all hit and run deaths were among pedestrians.
- SUVs and Rollovers: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the rollover crash is one of the most deadly forms of crashes among passenger vehicle, accounting for more than one-third (35 percent) of all occupant fatalities in 2010. Among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants in 2010, the proportion of fatalities in rollover crashes was highest for SUVs at 57 percent, followed by pickup trucks (47 percent), vans (30 percent) and passenger cars (23 percent). The number of people killed in SUV rollover crashes fell 2.3 percent from 2,303 in 2009 to 2,251 in 2010. In 2010 SUVs had the highest passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate in rollovers of any vehicle type—5.31 per 100,000 registered vehicles, contrasted with 5.02 percent for pickups, 2.30 percent for vans and 2.15 percent for passenger cars.
- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) issued a report in March 2008 that indicates that roof strength in SUVs significantly influences injury risk. The IIHS came to this conclusion by testing the roof strength of SUVs in much the same way that the government requires of automakers and then relating the findings to the real-world death and injury experience of the same vehicles in single-vehicle rollover crashes. The IIHS tested 11 mid-size SUVs that did not have electronic stability control or side curtain airbags, features that might affect injury rates in rollovers. Researchers concluded that if the roofs of all of the SUVs tested had the same strength as the strongest roof in the test, about 212, or almost one-third of the 668 deaths that occurred in these SUVs in 2006, would have been prevented.
- Motorcycles: NHTSA reports that 4,957 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2012, up 7.1 percent from 4,630 fatalities in 2011. In addition, motorcycle rider fatalities rose to 14.8 percent of all motor vehicle crash fatalities, compared with 14.3 percent in 2011. (See Motorcycle Crashes paper.) In 2011 motorcycles accounted for 3 percent of all registered motor vehicles and 0.6 percent of vehicle miles traveled. However, per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists were about 30 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash and five times more likely to be injured.
- Large Trucks: According to a NHTSA report, 3,921 people died in crashes involving large trucks in 2012, up 3.7 percent from 3,781 in 2011. Although large trucks accounted for 4 percent of all registered vehicles in 2011, in 2012 they accounted for 8 percent of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes and three percent of all vehicles involved in injury and property damage-only crashes.
- Crashworthiness: Crashworthiness, a term which refers to how well vehicles withstand different types of crashes, varies by category of vehicle as well as by make, model and year. Two groups conduct tests to determine crashworthiness—the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which is an insurance-funded organization, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The IIHS conducts four types of tests on a large variety of vehicles: Low speed crash tests, rear crash protection tests, side impact crash tests and 40-mph frontal crash offset tests. NHTSA conducts two tests that are similar to the IIHS’s frontal crash and side crash tests. NHTSA also publishes rollover safety ratings by make and model year, and tire ratings by brand.
- A report released in August 2013 by Allstate ranking cities in terms of car collisions named Fort Collins, Colorado, the safest driving city in America in 2012. According to the report, the average driver in Fort Collins experiences an auto collision every 13.9 years, 28.2 percent better than the national average of 10 years. Washington, DC, drivers were at the bottom of the ranking, with an accident occurring every 4.8 years on average, more than double the national average. A list of the top 10 best and worst cities for car collisions follows:
TOP TEN BEST AND WORST DRIVING CITIES, 2012 (1)
Lives Saved by Safety Devices
- Airbags: Airbags are designed to inflate in moderate to severe frontal crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that frontal airbags saved 2,213 lives in 2012. Airbags, combined with seatbelts, are the most effective safety protection available for passenger vehicles. Seatbelts alone reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent. The fatality-reducing effectiveness for airbags is 14 percent when no seatbelt is used and 11 percent when a seatbelt is used in conjunction with airbags. Side airbags, which protect the head, chest and abdomen, reduce driver deaths by an estimated 37 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
- Seatbelts: Among passenger vehicle occupants over the age of four, seatbelts saved an estimated 12,174 lives in 2012 and nearly 63,000 during the five-year period from 2008 to 2012. In fatal crashes in 2012, 79 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed.
- Child Safety Seats: NHTSA says that in 2012 the lives of an estimated 284 children under the age of five were saved by restraints.
- Motorcycle Helmets: NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,699 motorcyclists in 2012. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 781 lives could have been saved.
- Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders and 41 percent for motorcycle passengers. In other words, for every 100 motorcycle riders killed in crashes while not wearing a helmet, 37 of them could have been saved had all 100 worn helmets.
- Electronic Stability Control: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires all vehicles manufactured after model year 2012 to have electronic stability control (ESC). All new passenger cars, light trucks, SUVs and vans must comply with the requirement. ESC was designed to help prevent rollovers and other types of crashes by controlling brakes and engine power.
- NHTSA says ESC saved an estimated 634 passenger car occupant lives in 2011 and 411 lives among light truck and van occupants for a total of 1,045 lives saved among passenger vehicle occupants. The 2011 total for lives saved was 19.3 percent higher than the 876 lives saved in 2010, and 48.2 percent higher than the 705 lives saved in 2009, as more cars on the road are sold equipped with ESC.
- In May 2014 NHTSA released a report on updated estimates of fatality reduction by electronic stability control (ESC), which found that in single-vehicle crashes of passenger cars, where the first harmful event was a rollover, ESC decreased rollovers by 59.5 percent, relative to a control group. The reduction in rollovers was even more dramatic in LTVs such as pickup trucks, SUVs and vans, 74 percent.
- In the 2011 model year, 94 percent of light trucks and vans were equipped with ESC and 92 percent of passenger cars had ESC. This compares with 22 percent and 14 percent, respectively, in 2005.
- In June 2010 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released the findings of a study that found that ESC for passenger vehicles is one of the most effective technologies for the prevention of fatal crashes, especially rollovers. IIHS data show that it lowers the risk of a deadly crash by 33 percent and cuts the risk of a single-vehicle rollover by 73 percent. The IIHS examined 10 years of crash data from NHTSA.
OTHER SAFETY ISSUES
- Pedestrians: Over the 10 years from 2003 to 2012, 47,000 pedestrians were killed in the United States in traffic crashes according to the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). This number has been rising in recent years, and the majority of those deaths could have been prevented with safer street design according to an ASLA coalition report. ASLA says the four most dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians are Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami, all in Florida.
- A survey released in June 2013, sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance, found that about half of respondents considered texting or emailing while crossing a street to be the most dangerous activity, but a quarter of them admitted to doing it. About a quarter thought talking on the phone while crossing the street was dangerous, but half of them said they did it. The number of pedestrians killed in motor vehicle crashes rose by 6.4 percent in 2012 from 2011 to 4,743; 76,000 pedestrians were injured, up 10 percent from 2011.
- Deer Collisions: State Farm estimates that there were 1.22 million collisions between deer and vehicles in the United States between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013, down 3.5 percent from a year ago. More than 5,000 vehicles were declared a total loss in 2012 due to collisions with animals—mostly deer—up 2 percent from 2011 and 14 percent from 2010.
- The average property damage cost of deer collisions between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013 was $3,414, up 3.3 percent from the year before.
- Deer collisions are much more likely to occur during the last three months of the year and in the early evening. More crashes occur in November, the height of the mating and migration season, than any other month. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that deer collisions cause about 200 fatalities a year.
- Bicyclists: In 2012, 726 bicyclists and other cyclists were killed and an additional 49,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes, according to a National Highway Traffic Association report. Bicyclist deaths accounted for 2 percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities and made up 2 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes during the year. During 2012, 9 percent of the cyclists killed in traffic crashes were 5 to 15 years old.
- Biking is the most dangerous sport, based on estimates of injuries treated in hospital emergency departments compiled by the National Safety Council. In 2012, 547,499 people were treated for injuries sustained while riding bicycles.
- According to a survey by the National Sporting Goods Association, 36 million people rode bicycles in 2013. Bicycles are increasingly being used for more than recreation. The share of Americans commuting by bike grew by 62 percent from 2000 to 2012, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the League of American Bicyclists. In total there were 864,883 bike commuters in 2012.
- Deaths of bicyclists in collisions with motor vehicles have decreased substantially in the United States in recent decades. However, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association’s Spotlight on Highway Safety: Bicyclist Safety report, between 2010 and 2012 U.S. bicyclist deaths increased by 16 percent to 722 in 2012 from 621 in 2010. Other motor vehicle fatalities increased by 1 percent during this same time period.
- The report notes that fatal bicyclist crash patterns have changed significantly. The percentage involving adults age 20 and older increased from 21 percent in 1975 to 84 percent in 2012. In contrast, the percentage of fatally injured bicyclists younger than 20 decreased from 79 percent of the total in 1975 to 16 percent in 2012. The percentage involving males increased from 82 percent to 88 percent during this period. Adult males comprised 74 percent of all bicyclist deaths in 2012, followed by males younger than 20 (14 percent), females age 21 and older (10 percent) and females younger than 20 (2 percent).
- The report also includes bicyclist fatalities by area and notes that such fatalities are now more likely to occur in urban areas, with the proportion increasing from 50 percent in 1975 to 69 percent in 2012. In 2012 the greatest numbers of bicyclist deaths occurred in high-population states with many urban centers. California had the most deaths (123), followed by Florida (120), Texas (56), New York (45), Illinois (29) and North Carolina (27). These six states accounted for more than half (55 percent) of all bicyclist fatalities in 2012.
- The report also found that lack of helmet use and alcohol impairment continue to be major contributing factors in bicyclist deaths. In 2012 data from the National Highway Traffic Association indicate that 17 percent of fatally injured bicyclists were wearing helmets, 65 percent were not and helmet use was unknown for the remaining 18 percent. A large number of fatally injured bicyclists had blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher, the legal definition of alcohol-impaired driving, including 28 percent of those aged 16 and older. The percentage of bicyclists with high BACs ranged from 23 percent to 33 percent during the period 1982 to 2012.
- Crash Avoidance: Auto makers offer semiautomous technology to help drivers avoid crashes with alerts or automatic braking. In general, the devices monitor data from drivers and the environment around them to alert them to potential collisions. Electronic stability control is one type of crash avoidance system that is now widespread (see Lives Saved by Safety Devices, above.) Other features that are now available on high-end cars and some moderately priced vehicles are forward collision warning systems, which alert the driver when the vehicle is getting too close to one in front of it; automatic braking; lane departure warnings; side view assistance to compensate for blind spots; adaptive headlights; park assist; and backover prevention.
- In late March 2014, NHTSA announced that by May 2018, all new cars and light trucks must be equipped with rear-view cameras. NHTSA said that backover accidents, which rear-view cameras can help prevent, cause about 210 deaths and 15,000 injuries each year. Children under the age of 5 account for 31 percent of those fatalities. Adults 70 years old and older account for 26 percent.
- The Highway Loss Data Institute at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that fewer property damage liability claims have been filed involving vehicles with a forward collision warning system with autonomous braking and/or adaptive headlights than for the same vehicles not equipped with these features.
- In September 2013 the IIHS released the findings of a test program that rates the performance of front crash prevention systems. The systems use sensors such as cameras, radar or laser that detect when the vehicle gets too close to one in front of it. Most systems produce a warning. Many systems automatically brake the vehicle if the driver does not. This technology can add a thousand dollars or more to the cost of a new car.
- In May 2014 the IIHS released a ratings report on new cars that have front crash prevention systems. Large family cars and large luxury cars made up the bulk of the test group, and 21 out of the 24 test vehicles earned an advanced or higher rating. The IIHS says that more than 20 percent of all 2014 models available to motorists had front crash prevention systems with autobrake. This is twice as many as in 2012. Most front crash prevention systems have to be purchased as options.
- Vehicle-to-vehicle systems, also known as V2V, are being developed to allow cars in the same area to instantly communicate with each other over a wireless network to exchange data on speed, location and direction. This capacity can prevent being hit by a vehicle in an intersection by warning the driver, and in more advanced systems, by braking the car. A similar system, V2I, would allow vehicles to communicate with roadside infrastructure such as traffic lights or work and school zones. According to Consumer Reports, V2I technology began in 1999, and NHTSA began studying cars connected to the technology in 2002. In 2011 the agency joined with eight automakers to develop a standard system to allow all cars to communicate with each other.
- A federally funded V2V program concluded in August 2013. Although NHTSA is currently finalizing its analysis of the program’s findings and will publish a research report for public comment, the agency said that it will begin taking steps to enable V2V communications technology for light vehicles. NHTSA will later work on a regulatory proposal requiring the technology in the future. Final rules could take up to two years and phasing in the technology could take several more years, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
- Preliminary data from NHTSA shows that seatbelt use in 2013 reached 87 percent. States with primary seatbelt laws had an average 91 percent usage rate while states with secondary laws had a usage rate of 80 percent, 11 points lower. Seatbelt use was highest in the West at 93 percent, while the usage rate in the South was 87 percent. Usage in the Midwest was 85 percent and 84 percent in the Northeast. Usage rates by state are not yet available for 2013.
- The IIHS says that it typically takes about three decades for a promising safety feature to be developed, introduced on a few luxury cars and spread throughout the entire fleet of vehicles. It will take at least that long before 95 percent of vehicles on the road are equipped with a specific feature. For instance, it is estimated that electronic stability control will take 34 years to be present in 95 percent of vehicles on the road. Side airbags and antilock brakes are projected to take 31 years to be 95 percent available.
- Driverless Cars: In May 2012 Nevada became the first state to approve a license to test self-driving cars on public roads; California, Florida, Michigan (the latest, in January 2014) and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws. The cars, produced by several carmakers and Google, the technology firm, are completely autonomous and operate using computers, sensors and cameras. Google’s autonomous vehicle research program reported that the trials concluded about 300,000 miles of driving without a crash. However, industry experts cite cost, legal liability, privacy, data ownership and insurance regulations as additional challenges that must be addressed. See Self-Driving Cars and Insurance.
- Other auto makers such as Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Ford are developing programs for driverless cars. Volvo is currently testing 100 vehicles in Sweden.
- In May 2013 the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a policy statement concerning vehicle automation that explains and identifies the technology that offers significant potential for large reductions in crashes and deaths and that sets four levels of automation, ranging from none to total automation. Low-level automation would include electronic vehicle stability control (see Lives Saved by Safety Devices, above) and forward collision warning (see Crash Avoidance, above). In addition, NHTSA outlined research it has begun to explore concerning safety issues and includes recommendations on testing for the states that have authorized self-driving vehicles.
- Auto Insurance Discounts: According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, as of February 2013 (latest available), 34 states and the District of Columbia mandate discounts for older motorists, usually over the age of 55, and usually after completion of an approved accident prevention course. An additional eight states mandate discounts for drivers other than older drivers who complete approved courses. Six states require insurers to provide discounts to “good” drivers—for instance, those who have no violations points, haven’t had accidents involving bodily injury or driving while intoxicated incidents.
- Thirteen states mandate discounts for vehicles equipped with antitheft devices or VIN window etching, and nine require discounts for passive restraints and certain safety devices.
- Three states mandate discounts for motorcyclists who complete a training course.
- In general the state mandated discounts apply to the coverages that are most relevant to the discount. For example, older adult discounts would apply to liability coverages and antitheft device discounts would apply to the comprehensive portion of the auto insurance policy. However, the regulations vary by state. For instance in Massachusetts the older adult discount applies to all coverages for drivers over the age of 65.
- Insurers offer discounts to encourage drivers to focus on safety. Some insurers have nationwide discounts in place. Other companies have programs in selected states.
- At least two insurers offer insurance discounts to owners of “hybrid” cars, which combine a battery-powered engine with a traditional gas engine. When hybrid cars first came onto the market, insurers viewed hybrid owners as less risky drivers than the average driver, based on demographics, driving records, credit data, marital status and driving patterns. But new information from Mitchell International Inc., which publishes Industry Trend Reports, says that environmentally concerned drivers are not the sole demographic segment driving hybrid cars. Now, rising gas prices are the primary reason people purchase hybrids, and they are being driven more often for long commutes. As a result, Mitchell says, the average claim severity for hybrids is 6.5 percent higher than for gas-powered vehicles and that hybrid repairs use more original manufacturers’ parts than generic crash parts (See paper, Generic Auto Crash Parts.). The Highway Loss Data Institute also says that hybrids have higher collision claim frequencies than other vehicles.
- Usage Based Insurance (UBI): Insurers are increasingly using “telematics” to monitor driving behavior. This technology relies on an electronic device installed in a car to collect data about a person’s driving habits as the car is being driven. The data is used to determine how safely the car is being driven. Safe drivers generally receive a discount on their insurance coverage. A TowersWatson report found that nearly two-thirds of American drivers would be willing to alter their driving behavior in return for a 10 percent insurance discount. Seventy-six percent of those drivers would be willing to use a device to monitor their driving. A Celent report said that using a device can directly influence policyholder behavior because knowing that a device has been installed prompts some drivers to slow down and brake more safely. ISO said that studies indicate crash rates fell at least 20 percent in cars that use telematics compared to those that do not. In general, those who would benefit most from the programs are low-mileage, defensive drivers who do most of their driving in daytime hours. TowersWatson says by the end of 2011, every state had at least one insurer with a telematics program; 18 states had at least four insurers that had programs.
- Allstate, which offers UBI programs in 16 states and gives drivers a 10 percent discount for signing up, introduced an app for smartphone drivers in 2013 who use its UBI device. State Farm, the largest auto insurer in the country, has four UBI programs. Three focus solely on miles driven and one tracks driving behavior as well as miles driven. ISO, a Verisk analytics company, a national statistical, actuarial, underwriting and claims information company, has launched the first telematics-based rating system. The system collects data and assigns discounts to vehicles operating in areas safer than where they are garaged. The system was filed in 33 states and approved for use in 19 states, as of April 2013. At that time no insurers had filed to use the system. (See Pay-As-You-Drive, Insurance Issues Updates.)
- Progressive’s Snapshot program has logged more than 10 billion miles of driver data since 2008. The program accounted for $2 billion in written premium in 2013 for the company and has been used on about 2 million vehicles. It uses drivers’ mileage, time of day and hard braking data in determining premiums. It plans to incorporate GPS data in the future.
- Seatbelt Use Laws: Seatbelt use laws are on the books in every state except New Hampshire. However, only 33 states and the District of Columbia had primary enforcement laws as of June 2014, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Primary seatbelt laws allow law enforcement officers to stop a car for noncompliance with seatbelt laws (See chart in following section). In the other states, which have secondary enforcement laws, drivers may only be stopped and they and their passengers ticketed, if they have violated other traffic safety laws. In New Hampshire, legislation requiring seatbelt use was rejected by the Senate in May 2007, leaving it the only state in the nation that does not have a law requiring adults to wear seatbelts.
- Also as of June 2014, 16 states allow the "safety belt defense," which can reduce damages collected by someone in a crash if the person had failed to buckle up, according to the IIHS. The reduction is permitted only for injuries that would have been prevented by a belt. In some states, the reduction may not exceed a fixed percentage of the damages.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that states with primary enforcement laws have lower fatality rates. The agency compared the percentage of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant fatalities and fatality rates between states that have primary seatbelt use laws and states that did not have them for 2005 and 2006. Besides having a smaller percentage of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities that were unrestrained, the fatality rates in primary enforcement states were much lower than for all other states. In primary enforcement states the passenger vehicle occupant fatality rates were 0.97 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled and 10.20 per 100,000 population. This compares to 1.06 and 11.78 (respectively) for all other states.
- Seatbelt use in the United States reached 87 percent in 2013, statistically unchanged from 86 percent in 2012, according to NHTSA. States with primary seatbelt laws had an average 91 percent usage rate, 11 points higher than the 80 percent in states with secondary laws. Seatbelt use was highest in the West, at 93 percent, and lowest in the Northeast, at 84 percent. Seatbelt use was 85 percent in the Midwest and 87 percent in the South. Seatbelt use was highest for occupants of vans and SUVs, at 90 percent, and was at 88 percent for occupants of passenger cars. Seatbelt use for occupants of pickup trucks was 78 percent. The following chart shows seatbelt usage rates by state for 2012.
TRAFFIC DEATHS, 2003-2012
FATAL CRASHES AFFECTED BY DISTRACTED DRIVERS, 2012
MOTOR VEHICLE TRAFFIC DEATHS BY STATE, 2011-2012
DRIVERS IN MOTOR VEHICLE CRASHES BY AGE, 2012
MOTOR VEHICLE DEATHS PER 100,000 PERSONS BY AGE, 2012
MOTOR VEHICLE DEATHS BY ACTIVITY OF PERSON KILLED, 2012
DRIVING BEHAVIORS REPORTED FOR DRIVERS AND MOTORCYCLE OPERATORS INVOLVED IN FATAL CRASHES, 2012
CRASHES BY FIRST HARMFUL EVENT, TYPE OF COLLISION AND CRASH SEVERITY, 2012
ALCOHOL-IMPAIRED CRASH FATALITIES, 2003-2012 (1)
MOTOR VEHICLE THEFT IN THE UNITED STATES, 2003-2012
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