Why fatal crashes are on the decline
By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, August 26, 2011
More drivers are surviving serious accidents thanks to safety features built into modern cars.
About 20 years ago, there were more than 4,000 people killed in car crashes each year in Canada. Ten years ago the number was about 3,000 per year.
The most recent figures show a fatality total of about 2,200 for the last year reported.
These statistics are indisputable; fewer people are getting killed in car crashes, but are we getting much better at the driving task? Driving skill and safety seem to be improving throughout the country.
But there are all sorts of other factors at play when considering why there has been a significant reduction in traffic deaths in our country over the past two decades.
The first factor is the safety of modern-day vehicles. Starting with the safer bumpers of the 1970s, vehicles have undergone a complete makeover. Padded dashes, telescopic collapsible steering wheels, seatbelts, unibody cab construction, airbags, antilock braking systems, skid control, and electronic stability control are all examples of indispensable advancements in vehicle technology. Tires have improved significantly, from the outdated bias ply to the modern-day steel belt radials. Tire blowouts, which were often a problem several years ago, are rare today. The standard equipment disc brakes have replaced the old, less efficient drum brakes.
The second factor is the better practices used in highway construction. Nonstop options such as traffic circles can save time, money and lives. Any option that eliminates the left turn in front of oncoming traffic is a good idea. This is why one-way streets are so popular in urban areas. Left-turn advance traffic lights serve the same purpose. Traffic signal lights which are electronically controlled or governed by magnetic looping, allow for a much smoother flow of traffic. Highway median dividers and dedicated bicycle lanes are a way in which traffic engineers separate potential conflict and balance priorities in the transportation system.
The third reason for the reduced death rate on our roads is enforcement. Laser radar guns, traffic-light cameras and photo radar are all technological advancements that have allowed police forces to become much more efficient at their jobs. Breathalysers and police car cameras are just two more tools used by highway authorities.
The fourth factor that has likely lowered the fatality rate is the more difficult driver testing standards.
The tests are so much harder to pass. The learning period is now as long as three years in some provinces. When I learned to drive, it was commonplace for a novice driver to attain a full licence in only two weeks. Nowadays, many more new drivers take driving lessons. Only eight per cent of drivers in the 1980s took professional driving instruction. Today that number has increased several fold.
Whether we agree or disagree with the methods used, it is clear that these above mentioned advances have resulted in fewer deaths on our highways.
Suspiciously, the number of crashes reported each day has not decreased or has decreased marginally in most jurisdictions.
This will be the stuff of a future column.
The most curious change in attitude of late has taken place among financially independent younger drivers. With all of the above-mentioned positive changes, there seems to be an air of invincibility about them. They do not fear the worst in a crash because of the cocoon-like protection they receive from the seatbelt and airbag systems in their vehicles. Replacement insurance has enabled a driver to pay a modest deductible amount and drive away in a replacement vehicle of equal value within hours of the settlement of an insurance claim. With fewer prospects of a significant financial loss, or loss of life, driving behaviour seems to have degenerated among some younger adults. Food for thought.
What are your thoughts?
Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.
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