Car crash deaths climb despite better auto safety

By: Kimiya Manoochehri, Source: USA Today, Originally Published: 8.26.16

Despite more safety equipment in cars, car crash deaths are rising — and Labor Day weekend could prove to be the deadliest since 2008, the National Safety Council says.

Based on recent crash death rates, which have been on the rise since 2014, the council predicts that this Labor Day will result in 438 people being  killed during the three-day holiday weekend.

The biggest increases in car crash deaths have been in Florida, where there has been a 43% increase since 2014. Then comes Georgia (34%), Indiana (33%), California (31%), North Carolina (26%), Illinois (24%) and Kentucky (24%), according to the council.

About 19,100 people have been killed on U.S. roads since January — enough to fill 382 school buses — and 2.2 million were seriously injured, the council says.

This increase, though very real, may be misleading, says Kelley Blue Book managing editor Matt DeLorenzo, since it’s not just the number of fatalities that has increased.

“The number of miles driven is also up,” DeLorenzo says. “And that will drive up the aggregate numbers. More miles driven means more people will die.”

At the same time, more new cars come equipped with more safety features — some of them mandated and some optional —  that are saving lives in crashes. They include more airbags, automated braking, blind spot warnings and backup cameras. “It’s a complicated situation because cars are definitely getting safer, but you could have all the air bags or warnings in the world and if you’re not paying attention something bad can happen.” DeLorenzo says.

The increase in driving deaths could reflect new threats to auto safety, like driver distraction from infotainment systems and smartphones.

“These numbers could be lower if distracted driving wasn’t an issue,” DeLorenzo says. “Ten years ago, people weren’t using smartphones as much, so I think if there was a study on distracted driving (it would show) their share of fatalities has been growing and that’s keeping the numbers up.”