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Cars are one of the most useful but deadly objects in our daily lives. We rely on motor vehicles to get from point A to point B every day to get to school, get to our job, or just to go somewhere that would be unreachable through walking alone. Cars and motor vehicles have played an important part to our society. In fact, the average American will spend 12.2 days per year driving on the road (AAA). With new safety technology being introduced into cars every year, one would likely assume that the roads are getting safer. However, current trends within the past few years have been showing the opposite results. In fact, 2016 served to be a peak year when it came to deaths from car accidents. This then begs the question: Who is getting hit? Why are people getting it? How are there more fatalities if cars are supposed to be safer than ever?
According to the National Safety Council, between 2015 and 2017, there has been the highest jump in car accident fatalities in over 50 years, with 40,200 deaths in 2016. This does not seem right at first, given all the new safety features and regulations on cars, but what about the drivers? According to the Highway safety counsel, it’s a mix of both new and old factors. On one hand, while new safety technology keeps us safe, cars also have more distracting features. According to AAA, there was a rise in accidents after the introduction of the touch screen menu built into a car (USA Today). People can also be vulnerable to being distracted texting and other smartphone apps on the road such as Facebook. Some experts think the reason for the rise of fatal car crashes is a lot more old-fashioned, in which people are not simply taking all the safety precautions they could be while driving or riding as a passenger. In 2016, the amount of crashes went up by 5% (which is bad), but the disturbing part of this new rise in crashes is that the amount of fatalities went up 25% (The New York Times). Currently, there is no clear understanding of why the rise in fatalities is happening.
The biggest safety concerns people tend to shirk are driving at a reasonable speed, wearing a seatbelt, and not driving under the influence of alcohol or any other drug. This does make some sense, since safety features can only take you so far if you don’t take advantage of them and then speed on top of it. The new source of crashes could also have to do with the fact that there are more people on the road. On average, when the American economy is doing better, there is often a higher rate of car accidents (Newsweek). This comes from the fact that there are simply more cars on the road. More people are being employed, so more people have to drive to work. Also, more people are feeling more comfortable spending money on luxuries such as day trips and drive to a new location; however, with more people on the road, the more people you are likely to hit on the way to your destination. Again, while more cars on the road might explain the rise in crashes, it does not necessarily explain the steep jump in fatalities.
How can we stop or at least take down driving fatalities? The first place to think about is legislature. At this moment, 34 out of 50 states view wearing a seatbelt as a primary offense, or an offense that the police have the right to pull you over for (GHSA). Of that 34, only 18 states cover both the front row and the back row (the other states only cover the front row). However, there are only so many police officers on the road. There is over 164,000 miles of highway in the United States and only so many police officers (Federal Highway Association). One cannot expect them to catch every single person who decides to speed on the highway. Another movement has been gathering some steam regarding autonomous cars. As autonomous car technology gets more advanced, a growing number of people want everyone to switch over, for if everyone switches over to an autonomous car, then theoretically there shouldn’t be any more accidents due to human error. I myself feel a bit more suspicious on two fronts. I am suspicious about giving up autonomy to a machine. Cars have served as a symbol of freedom and liberation, and I do not think people will so easily give up driving cars by themselves. On the other front, I am not sure that the cars will be always safe. To prove that an autonomous car is safe (safe enough to make someone give up their agency to drive), it needs to be very safe on the road and safe from being taken advantage of hackers, given that the driving mechanism is automated. For now, we should stick to seeking analog solutions such as wearing seatbelts, not speeding, and never driving while intoxicated to make people safer on the road.