New cars are – supposedly – “safer” than ever. Right? That’s what the government has been telling us.
Each new fatwa – backup cameras, tire pressure monitors, all those airbags – forced down our throats accompanied by the ululations of the regulatory ayatollahs that they would make cars . . . safer.
But then the news. Motor vehicle fatalities are suddenly going up.
And not just a little bit, either.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety (there it is, again!) Administration, motor vehicle fatalities are up by 8 percent – and that’s for 2015, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Preliminary data for 2016 suggest an even sharper spike – possibly into the double digits.
The Usual Explanations don’t seem to cover it.
“Speeding,” for instance, is hard to blame – although it probably will be. But there’s no evidence that people, in general, are driving any faster now than they were three or four years ago. Speed limits haven’t changed much – on highways or secondary roads – since the late 1990s when Congress finally repealed the Nixonian 55 MPH National Maximum Speed Limit.
And that was almost 20 years ago.
The “speed kills” crowd warned of a massive uptick in road deaths as a result of repealing the NMSL – but it didn’t happen. Highway fatalities actually declined even as people were allowed to drive faster.
That is, were allowed to drive as fast as they had been driving prior to the repeal.
Arguably, the roads got safer because people could pay more attention to their driving – and to the driving of others – than worrying about radar traps and being ready at any moment to slam on the brakes.
Regardless, the fact remains that repealing the NMSL – and higher posted speed limits on most of the Interstate system – did not result in a fatality uptick. Speed didn’t kill.
So it can’t be that.
How about an increase in VMT? That’s statistics speak for Vehicle Miles Traveled – a complicated way of saying there are more cars on the road, driving more miles. Well, there probably are more cars on the road right now, today, than there were in say 2013. But not that much more. Not enough to account for the sharpest uptick in motor vehicle fatalities in 50 years.
It’s got to be something else.
Could it possibly be that government-mandated “safe” cars have become very distracting to drive? That we have passed a kind of idiot-proofing Event Horizon?
Might it be that the spike in motor vehicle fatalities is an unintended consequence of serial efforts to absolve – via technology – the driver of responsibility for paying attention to his driving?
Is it possible that encumbering cars with so much technology meant, ostensibly, to prevent accidents from happening has instead made accidents more rather than less likely – as a result of warning buzzer/light/vibrating steering wheel overload?
That makes sense.
And, it correlates.
The sudden, dramatic uptick in fatalities over the past 2-3 years coincides almost exactly with the filtering into the general circulation of what are advertised as being active “safety” technologies. These differ from the ones we’re used to – like anti-lock brakes and traction control and even air bags – which are reactive technologies that step in (or do something, like explode in your face) only when the car is actually crashing or on the cusp of crashing.
Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website