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Traffic death drop shows benefit of safety tech in cars

By Claes Bell ·
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Posted: 8 am ET

You know driving is dangerous when "only" 33,808 deaths in 2009 makes the news as a good thing. But in this case, it unquestionably is, especially when you compare it to the 37,423 deaths that occurred on American roads in 2007, or the 43,510 deaths that took place in 2005.

Side-impact airbags like these may have contributed to the drop in traffic fatalities

Side-impact airbags like these may have contributed to the drop in traffic fatalities

While traffic accidents are still the leading cause of death for those between ages 3 and 34, the NHTSA announced that 2009 had the lowest number of auto fatalities since 1950. That's despite a .2 percent increase in miles driven.

The NHTSA report attributes the decline mainly to drunk-driving enforcement (alcohol-related road deaths were down 7.4 percent since 2008) and increasing numbers of drivers wearing seatbelts.

I'd also chalk it up to advances in vehicle safety technology in new cars, which allow modern cars to protect passengers better than any in history. From airbags to electronic stability control to computer-aided design of car bodies that crumple to absorb impact, American drivers are better protected than ever from the enormous forces involved in a car accident.

But that protection doesn't come without a cost. A 2001 NHTSA study found government-mandated safety features alone required back then added $839.13 to the cost of a new car, and that doesn't take into account safety features required due to more recent rules such as tire-pressure-monitoring systems and electronic stability control (by 2012). Also, that doesn't include safety features that are being adopted as industry standard, such as side-impact airbags and anti-lock brakes.

So the next time you get sticker shock looking at the price of a new car, you might want to keep that in mind.

What do you think? Is $900 too much to pay for government-mandated safety features? Do modern cars include too many pricey safety devices?

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1 Comment
September 15, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I definitely don't think $900 is too much, provided the safety requirements have been shown to decrease fatalities. Some people spend that much on purely aesthetic improvements to their car (e.g. spinners) or on speaker systems, and these things surely have to be ranked lower on our priority list than "not dying".