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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Good news, bad news

The good news is that traffic deaths in the United States have dropped for the second straight year.  According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, U.S traffic fatalities for 2018 tallied 36,560.  The trend continued for the first half of 2019, with deaths down 3.4% compared to 2018.

The bad news is that the 2018 figure translates to just over 100 traffic-related deaths occurring daily in America.  We are moving in a good direction, though, as prior to 2018, the fatality count stayed over 40,000 annually for decades.

Causal reasons for the downward trend are unclear, since there is an ever-growing vehicle population on U.S. roadways.  Without much doubt, a portion of the improving numbers is assignable ever-evolving safety design and features in new cars and trucks.

Vehicle manufacturers diligent crash testing has contributed to major changes in automobile construction designs that have “crumple zones” to absorb impact along with strengthened passenger compartments to protect occupants.

Besides that, some models have up to nine airbags placed to protect drivers and passengers from objects within the cabin and from one another.  With each successive model year, new vehicles have better tires, brakes, and stability systems.  Drivers are also getting help from driver assists such as lane departure warning, blind spot warning, backup cameras, adaptive cruise control and automatic braking.

So some of the fatality reduction is likely attributable to all of that.  But hopefully, some of it is due to an overall improvement in the driving populace.  With nationwide safety campaigns, such as Target Zero in Washington state, MADD, and countless others, the average driver might be approaching the driving task in a more serious manner.

The latest couple generations of drivers are far less likely to take the wheel after consuming alcohol than the couple of generations preceding them.  That is a positive outcome of the few previous decades of safety campaigns stressing the mayhem caused by drunk driving.

When a racecar driver repeatedly wins, there is always a question of how much of the success is due to driver skill versus how much it results from the vehicle preparation.  The analysis generally goes something like this:  A good driver cannot win with a bad car, and a good car cannot cross the finish line first with a bad driver.  A good driver will finish higher with a bad car than a bad driver will and a bad driver will not likely win even with a good car.

That means a racing win generally requires a good driver in a good car.  Similarly, safe, accident-free driving on our roadways requires good drivers with good cars.  Even though you may not have the latest model, safe driving can be achieved in a well-maintained older car lacking modern safety features.  One cannot be very safe, however, in a car with bald tires, bad brakes, broken windshields or other major faults.

Unsafe drivers — those with inadequate sleep, impaired by drugs or alcohol, or simply having a flippant attitude to serious defensive driving — cannot be safe despite having a new car with every available safety feature.

Whether your vehicle is old or new, strive to maintain it in top condition.  Along with that, be in a rested state with a clear head and a proper mental attitude every time you drive — it will help move the fatalities to under 100 per day,

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at