|29 December 2014||(Click
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Dec. 29, 2014 6:12 p.m. ET
The headline “Safety Gains in Newer Cars Cut Traffic Fatalities” (page one, Dec. 20) may be literally correct, but it conveys a grand falsehood. Eighty years of scientific research show that policies addressing how people drive have an effect on safety that overwhelms technological details.
U.S. traffic deaths have declined since 1972 by 41%. This might seem impressive. However, deaths in the Netherlands declined by 81% in the same period. If U.S. deaths had declined by 81%, we would be killing 22,000 fewer Americans on our roads each year. Vehicle improvements in all motorized countries have been similar. We are killing the additional 22,000 because of our aggressive denial of the science that shows that vehicle factors, while important, aren’t as important as road factors, which aren’t nearly as important as driver-behavior factors.
The U.S. driving population is fed a diet of misinformation that vehicle factors are crucial. Examples are the massive attention given to defects in Toyota and GM vehicles. It is alleged that these defects played some role in fewer than 100 deaths in a decade. In the same decade more than 450,000 people, including more than 8,000 children under 8, were killed in U.S. traffic. Overwhelmingly, their deaths had nothing to do with technology, defective or otherwise. The 450,000 deaths should be the focus of public concern, not the few that generate litigation earnings.