Celebrating Thousands of Lives Saved on the Road

This week, as we commute to our jobs or take our kids to school, take a moment to reflect on the differences made by the landmark Highway Safety Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, signed into law on Sept. 9, 1966. 

In 1960, there were 36,399 annual highway deaths in the U.S. – that comes out to roughly five deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled (compared to 1.11 deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles in 2010).  There were no standardized traffic signs across the country, most roadways were not lighted, and few guardrails existed on roads and curves, dramatically increasing the potential of cars going off the road.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, many automobiles were “unsafe at any speed.” Serious incidents such as fuel tank fires occurred in collisions at speeds of less than 30 miles per hour.  Cars were not required to install seat belts despite their proven success in reducing traffic fatalities.  Steering wheels that could not absorb impacts with other cars impaled drivers; shattered windshields resulted in disfiguring injuries.  All of these kinds of injuries were reduced when rules under the Highway Safety Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act required auto manufacturers to include safety features in the cars they make.  Like the new fuel efficiency standards established by the Obama administration, the national safety standards set by the federal government saved lives and have reduced the risks of death and serious injury for hundreds of millions of Americans over the past 46 years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that safety belts saved 280,374 lives from 1975-2010, and airbags saved 30,469 lives from 1987-2010.  Thank federal regulation.

If you buckle up for a drive to the country next weekend, take heart that the condition of our highways and the safety of the car you’re driving mean you are less likely to be in a serious accident and much, much more likely to survive a serious crash, thanks to the Highway Safety Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

Image by flickr user Tim Samoff, used under a Creative Commons license.

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