Why U.S. Road Safety is Getting Worse

And how automakers have the power to improve it.

The U.S. has a roadway safety problem, and it may be worse than you think.

A recent study conducted by the New York Times took a deeper look at widely reported data around U.S. traffic fatalities, comparing it to that of other countries and trying to root out the cause.

The results were a bit alarming. According to the report, of the 31 developed countries assessed, only three saw an increase in traffic deaths in 2020, with the U.S. being one of them. And not only did the U.S. see a 5 percent increase, most nations saw a decrease of 10 percent or more – some with dips as much as 25 percent.

At the time, many reports cited theories around COVID-19 – suggesting that the less risk averse were the ones out and about during 2020. Or that largely deserted roadways led to higher speeds and more reckless driver behavior.

But the recent New York Times report brings another cause to light: vehicle and roadway design. According to global roadway safety experts, the U.S. has fallen behind in addressing certain safety risks that can be countered with both vehicle and roadway design in order to reduce deadly accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.

One example has to do with the way roadways are wider in the United States. The expansive highways reportedly makes speeding feel safer. Secondly, vehicle designs have focused largely on improving safety for drivers but not pedestrians – and with larger weights and sizes of the standard SUVs on U.S. roadways, collisions with people outside of vehicles are much more likely to cause fatalities.

And the pandemic actually increased the number of these more vulnerable road users, further reinforcing the reasons behind the increased death rate in 2020.

These variables are what leads the New York Times to call this an “exceptionally American problem.” So as the high rates of deadly accidents remain high, will lawmakers begin to put pressure on U.S. automakers to make design changes with pedestrians in mind? According to StreetsBlog, “the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that NHTSA studied pedestrian safety regulations from the 1970s through the 1990s, but never acted.”

The report adds that late consumer advocate Clarence Ditlow in 2012 called pedestrian protection “one of the last frontiers of vehicle safety.”

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