NHTSA Report Number DOT HS 809 833October 2004
Lives Saved by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Other Vehicle Safety Technologies, 1960-2002 - Passenger Cars and Light Trucks - With a Review of 19 FMVSS and their Effectiveness in Reducing Fatalities, Injuries and Crashes

Charles J. Kahane, Ph.D

pdf graphic The complete report is available here in pdf format. Part-1 Part-2

Abstract

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began to evaluate its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) in 1975. By October 2004, NHTSA had evaluated the effectiveness of virtually all the life-saving technologies introduced in passenger cars, pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans from about 1960 up through the later 1990's. A statistical model estimates the number of lives saved from 1960 to 2002 by the combination of these life-saving technologies. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data for 1975-2002 document the actual crash fatalities in vehicles that, especially in recent years, include many safety technologies. Using NHTSA's published effectiveness estimates, the model estimates how many people would have died if the vehicles had not been equipped with any of the safety technologies. In addition to equipment meeting specific FMVSS, the model tallies lives saved by installations in advance of the FMVSS, back to 1960, and by non-compulsory improvements, such as the redesign of mid and lower instrument panels. FARS data have been available since 1975, but an extension of the model allows estimates of lives saved in 1960-1974.

Vehicle safety technologies saved an estimated 328,551 lives from 1960 through 2002. The annual number of lives saved grew quite steadily from 115 in 1960, when a small number of people used lap belts, to 24,561 in 2002, when most cars and light trucks were equipped with numerous modern safety technologies and belt use on the road achieved 75 percent.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began to evaluate the effectiveness of its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) in 1975.  By October 2004, NHTSA had evaluated virtually all the life-saving technologies introduced in passenger cars and in LTVs (light trucks and vans – i.e., pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, minivans and full-size vans) from about 1960 up through the later 1990’s.  The agency is now ready to estimate the number of lives saved from 1960 to 2002, year-by-year, by the combination of all these life-saving technologies, and by each individual technology.

 

Past evaluation reports estimated the effectiveness of a safety technology – a percentage reduction of fatalities – by statistically analyzing crash data on vehicles produced just before vs. just after a make-model received that technology.  Effectiveness, if accurately estimated, should not change much over time.  But the benefits of a technology – the absolute number of lives saved in a year – readily change from year to year depending on the number of vehicles equipped with the technology, their mileage and the crash-involvement rate of the driving population (exposure).  This report will:

 

 

                                                                                                                                               Heavy

FMVSS: Safety Technologies                                                                Cars          LTVs        Trucks

 

105:   Dual master cylinders & front disc brakes[1]                                     X               X

108:   Conspicuity tape for heavy trailers                                                                                     X[2]

(201)  Voluntary mid/lower instrument panel improvements                       X               X

203/204: Energy-absorbing steering assemblies                                        X               X

206:   Improved door locks                                                                     X               X

208:   Lap belts                                                                                       X               X

          3-point belts                                                                                  X               X

          2-point automatic belts                                                                  X

          Voluntary NCAP-related improvements for belted occs.                X

          Frontal air bags                                                                             X               X

212:   Adhesive windshield bonding                                                         X               X

213:   Child safety seats                                                                           X               X

214:   Side door beams                                                                           X               X

          Voluntary (pre-1994) side impact protection in 2-door cars           X

216:   Roof crush strength (eliminate true hardtops)                                  X



In addition to safety equipment installed to meet specific FMVSS, the model tallies lives saved by installations in advance of the FMVSS, and by non-compulsory improvements, as shown in the preceding list, such as the redesign of mid and lower instrument panels and modifications to improve performance on the New Car Assessment Program.   The model includes car/LTV occupants saved by car/LTV technologies or child safety seats (99 percent of the total), plus pedestrians/bicyclists/ motorcyclists saved by car/LTV brake improvements, and car/LTV occupants saved by conspicuity tape on heavy trailers.

 

The model does not include technologies so recent that NHTSA has not yet evaluated them based on statistical analysis of crash data, such as the dynamic-test standard for side impact protection (1994-97 phase-in), or head air bags.  The study is limited to technologies in cars and LTVs, or that save lives of car/LTV occupants; for example, motorcycle helmets are not included.  It is limited to vehicle technologies.  It does not estimate the effects of behavioral safety programs (such as the reduction of impaired driving) – except, of course, to the extent that programs to increase belt use have contributed greatly to the number of lives saved by belts; roadway and traffic engineering improvements; and shifts in the vehicle fleet – e.g., from large to small cars, or from cars to LTVs.  The model is limited to estimating fatality reduction by the safety technologies: NHTSA does not have enough “building blocks” (evaluation results) to develop estimates for the numbers of nonfatal injuries prevented over the years.

 

How the model works  Consider 1,000 cases of driver fatalities in directly frontal multivehicle crashes in cars with 1960 technology: no energy-absorbing steering columns, all drivers unbelted, no air bags.  A NHTSA evaluation estimates that energy-absorbing columns reduce fatalities of drivers in frontal crashes by 12.1 percent.  Thus, if these cars had been equipped with them, there would have been only 879 fatalities, a saving of 121 lives.  Another evaluation estimates that 3-point belts, in cars with energy-absorbing columns, reduce drivers’ fatality risk by 42 percent in these types of crashes.  If the cars had been equipped with 3-point belts in addition to energy-absorbing columns, and the drivers had buckled up, the 879 fatalities would have diminished to 510, saving another 369 lives.  A third evaluation estimates that air bags reduce fatality risk by 25.3 percent for belted drivers in these types of crashes, in cars with energy-absorbing columns.  Air bags would have cut the 510 fatalities down to 381, saving another 129 lives.

 

The model uses 1975-2002 FARS data and performs the same calculations in reverse order: e.g., there might be 381 actual FARS cases of 3-point-belted driver fatalities in directly frontal multivehicle crashes in model year 1999 cars, all of which are equipped with air bags and energy-absorbing columns.  If air bags, the most recent (1990’s) safety technology, had been removed from the cars, fatalities would have increased to 510.  In other words, there must have been 129 potentially fatal collisions in these model year 1999 cars that did not become FARS cases because air bags saved the driver’s life.  If the 3-point belts, a 1970’s technology, had also been removed from the cars, and the drivers had been unbelted, the fatalities would have increased to 879.  Finally, if the energy-absorbing columns, a 1960’s technology, had been replaced by rigid columns, degrading these cars all the way back to a 1960 level of safety, fatalities would have increased to 1,000.  The three technologies, in combination, saved 619 lives: 129 by air bags, 369 by 3-point belts and 121 by energy-absorbing columns.  In summary, FARS cases of fatalities in vehicles equipped with modern safety technologies constitute evidence of an even larger number of fatalities that would have occurred without those technologies.  This approach, based on “reverse chronological order” is not the only one that could have been used in the model; however, alternative approaches would have generated the same estimate of overall lives saved in 1960-2002, differing only in how they allocated that total among the individual safety technologies.

 

FARS data have been available since 1975, but the FMVSS date back to January 1, 1968, and some technologies were introduced before that.  An extension of the model allows estimates of lives saved in 1960-1974.

 

Lives saved in 1960-2002  Safety technologies saved an estimated 328,551 lives from 1960 through 2002.  Table 1 shows that the annual number of lives saved grew quite steadily from 115 in 1960, when a small number of people used lap belts, to 24,561 in 2002, when most cars and LTVs were equipped with numerous modern safety technologies and belt use on the road achieved 75 percent.  (Safety belt use continued to increase after 2002, and reached 80 percent in 2004.)

 

Figure 1 tracks the benefits of vehicle safety technologies.  Fewer than 1,000 lives per year were saved in 1960-67.  Starting in 1968, vehicles incorporating most of the safety improvements of the 1960’s superseded older vehicles; lives saved reached 4,000 in 1978, but remained at that level for 6 years as belt use temporarily declined.  The greatest increase, from 4,835 in 1984 to 11,265 in 1988, came with buckle-up laws.  Since 1988, continued increases in belt use, air bags and other recent technologies, and a steadily escalating “base” of more vehicles and more VMT (vehicle miles of travel) have helped the fatality reduction grow steadily, exceeding 15,000 in 1994 and 20,000 in 2000, reaching 24,561 in 2002.


TABLE 1: LIVES SAVED BY VEHICLE SAFETY TECHNOLOGIES, 1960-2002

 

(Car and LTV occupants saved,

plus non-occupants and motorcyclists saved by car/LTV brake improvements)

 

 

                                                      LIVES

                               CY                     SAVED             

 

                              1960                      115       

                              1961                      117        

                              1962                      135       

                              1963                      160       

                              1964                      203       

                              1965                      251       

                              1966                      339       

                              1967                      509       

                              1968                      816       

                              1969                    1,179       

                              1970                    1,447       

                              1971                    1,774       

                              1972                    2,226       

                              1973                    2,576       

                              1974                    2,518       

                              1975                    3,058       

                              1976                    3,240        

                              1977                    3,671       

                              1978                    4,040       

                              1979                    4,299       

                              1980                    4,539       

                              1981                    4,455       

                              1982                    4,057       

                              1983                    4,248       

                              1984                    4,835       

                              1985                    6,389       

                              1986                    8,523       

                              1987                    9,973       

                              1988                   11,265       

                              1989                   11,487       

                              1990                   11,711       

                              1991                   12,194       

                              1992                   12,483       

                              1993                   13,796       

                              1994                   15,154       

                              1995                   16,117       

                              1996                   17,813       

                              1997                   18,560       

                              1998                   19,380       

                              1999                   19,942       

                              2000                   21,789       

                              2001                   22,605       

                              2002                   24,561       

                                                ===========   

                                                    328,551       


FIGURE 1: LIVES SAVED BY VEHICLE SAFETY TECHNOLOGIES, 1960-2002

 

 

 

      ‚

25000 ˆ

      ‚                                                                  belt use          O

      ‚                                                                  keeps

      ‚                                                                  increasing      O

      ‚                                                                                O

      ‚                                                               + air bags

      ‚

20000 ˆ                                                          + more vehicles     O

      ‚                                                            and VMT         O

      ‚                                                                          O

      ‚                                                                        O

      ‚

      ‚                                                                      O

      ‚

15000 ˆ                                                                    O

      ‚

      ‚                                                                  O

      ‚

      ‚                                                              O O

      ‚                                                        O O O

      ‚

10000 ˆ                                                      O  BUCKLE

      ‚

      ‚                                                    O     UP

      ‚

      ‚                                                        LAWS

      ‚                                                  O

      ‚

 5000 ˆ                                                O

      ‚                       energy       O O O O O O 

      ‚                       crisis   O O  declining belt use

      ‚                          O O O

      ‚                        O   early non-belt

      ‚                  O O O     technologies phase in

      ‚              O O

    0 ˆO O O O O O O

      Šˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆ||ƒˆƒ

 

       1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   2   2

       9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   0   0

       6   6   6   6   6   7   7   7   7   7   8   8   8   8   8   9   9   9   9   9   0   0

       0   2   4   6   8   0   2   4   6   8   0   2   4   6   8   0   2   4   6   8   0   2

 

                                            CALENDAR YEAR


Car/LTV occupants: actual fatalities, potential fatalities and percent saved  Among the 328,551 lives saved in 1960-2002, 326,371 were occupants of cars and LTVs.  (The remaining 2,180 were pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists who avoided fatal impacts by cars or LTVs because dual master cylinders or front disc brakes improved the car or LTV’s braking performance.)  The sum of the actual fatalities and the lives saved is the number of fatalities that potentially would have happened if cars and LTVs still had 1960 safety technology and nobody used safety belts.  Table 2 shows 1,443,030 actual car/LTV occupant fatalities in 1960-2002; without the 326,371 lives saved, there would have been 1,796,401 potential fatalities.  Actual car and LTV occupant fatalities only increased from 28,183 in 1960 to 32,737 in 2002.  Without the vehicle safety technologies and increases in belt use, they would have more than doubled, from 28,298 in 1960 to 57,242 in 2002.

 

Figure 2 compares the trends in actual and potential fatalities.  Up to the early 1980’s, both trend lines were fairly close together, and both moved up or down in response to baby boomers starting to drive (1960’s), energy crisis (1970’s) and recession (early 1980’s).  From the mid 1980’s, vehicle safety made a big difference.  Potential fatalities kept rising as registered vehicles and VMT increased in an affluent society.  But increased belt use, air bags and other vehicle safety technologies held the line on actual fatalities at about 32,000 a year.

 

The overall, combined effectiveness of the vehicle safety technologies is the percent of potential fatalities that were saved, as shown in the right column of Table 2.  The effectiveness grew in every year from 1960 to 2002, from a humble 0.40 percent in 1960 to a very substantial 42.81 percent fatality reduction in 2002.  Figure 3 charts the trend, showing:

 


TABLE 2: ACTUAL OCCUPANT FATALITIES, POTENTIAL FATALITIES WITHOUT

THE VEHICLE SAFETY TECHNOLOGIES, AND LIVES SAVED IN CARS/LTVs

 

CY Actual

W/o Safety Techs

Lives Saved

Percent Saved

1960

28,183

28,298

    115

 0.40

1961

28,087

28,204

    117

 0.41

1962

30,544

30,679

    135

 0.44

1963

32,664

32,823

    159

 0.49

1964

35,603

35,805

    202

 0.56

1965

36,518

36,767

    249

 0.68

1966

39,130

39,465

    334

 0.85

1967

39,327

39,826

    499

 1.25

1968

41,019

41,818

    799

 1.91

1969

42,117

43,273

   1,156

 2.67

1970

39,556

40,972

   1,415

 3.45

1971

38,916

40,651

   1,735

 4.27

1972

40,103

42,281

   2,178

 5.15

1973

38,739

41,258

   2,520

 6.11

1974

31,145

33,608

   2,463

 7.33

1975

31,361

34,355

   2,995

 8.72

1976

32,222

35,398

   3,176

 8.97

1977

33,173

36,772

   3,599

 9.79

1978

34,988

38,951

   3,964

10.18

1979

35,108

39,325

   4,217

10.72

1980

35,097

39,554

   4,456

11.27

1981

33,911

38,284

   4,373

11.42

1982

29,855

33,834

   3,979

11.76

1983

29,209

33,384

   4,176

12.51

1984

30,177

34,935

   4,758

13.62

1985

30,044

36,357

   6,314

17.37

1986

32,380

40,827

   8,447

20.69

1987

33,306

43,203

   9,898

22.91

1988

34,217

45,407

  11,190

24.64

1989

33,709

45,127

  11,418

25.30

1990

32,830

44,470

  11,640

26.18

1991

30,928

43,060

  12,131

28.17

1992

29,542

41,966

  12,424

29.60

1993

30,182

43,917

  13,735

31.27

1994

30,979

46,075

  15,096

32.76

1995

32,057

48,113

  16,056

33.37

1996

32,534

50,289

  17,755

35.31

1997

32,501

51,003

  18,502

36.28

1998

31,940

51,263

  19,323

37.69

1999

32,151

52,038

  19,887

38.22

2000

32,234

53,968

  21,734

40.27

2001

32,009

54,558

  22,548

41.33

2002

32,737

57,242

  24,506

42.81

 

1,443,030

1,769,401

326,371

 



FIGURE 2: ACTUAL VS. POTENTIAL CAR/LTV OCCUPANT FATALITIES

 

(“A” = actual fatalities; “P” = potential fatalities without the vehicle safety technologies)

 

 

 60000 ˆ

       ‚

       ‚                                                                  potential         P

 55000 ˆ                                                                     fatalities   P

       ‚                                                                                P

       ‚                                                                          P P P

 50000 ˆ                                                                        P  keep rising

       ‚                                                                      P

       ‚                                                                    P

 45000 ˆ                                                        P P P

       ‚                  P                                   P       P   P

       ‚                A A P   P P                                     P

 40000 ˆ            P A     A P A             P P           P  FMVSS start to

       ‚ baby-      A         A   A         P     P           make a big difference

       ‚ boomers  A           energy      P     recession P

 35000 ˆ start  A             crisis  P P   A A A       P       A

       ‚      A                     P     A       A P P       A   A A           A A         A

       ‚ driving                    A A A                   A         A     A A     A A A A

 30000 ˆ    A                                       A A A A             A A

       ‚A A

       ‚                                                              The FMVSS hold the line!

 25000 ˆ

       ‚

       ‚

 20000 ˆ

       ‚

       ‚

 15000 ˆ

       ‚

       ‚

 10000 ˆ

       ‚

       ‚

  5000 ˆ

       ‚

       ‚

     0 ˆ

       ‚

      

        1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   2   2

        9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   0   0

        6   6   6   6   6   7   7   7   7   7   8   8   8   8   8   9   9   9   9   9   0   0

        0   2   4   6   8   0   2   4   6   8   0   2   4   6   8   0   2   4   6   8   0   2

 

                                            CALENDAR YEAR


FIGURE 3: PERCENT OF POTENTIAL FATALITIES SAVED BY VEHICLE SAFETY TECHNOLOGIES, 1960-2002

 

 

   45 ˆ

      ‚

      ‚                                                                                    O

      ‚                                                                  more belt use   O

   40 ˆ                                                                                O

      ‚                                                                  + air bags  O

      ‚                                                                            O

      ‚                                                                          O

   35 ˆ                                                                        O

      ‚                                                                      O

      ‚                                                                    O

      ‚                                                                  O

   30 ˆ                                                                O

      ‚                                                              O

      ‚

      ‚                                                            O

   25 ˆ                                                        O O

      ‚

      ‚                                                      O

      ‚                                                    O

   20 ˆ

      ‚                                                      buckle-up

      ‚                                                  O     laws

      ‚

   15 ˆ

      ‚                                                O

      ‚                                              O

      ‚                                      O O O O

   10 ˆ                                  O O  declining belt use

      ‚                              O O      

      ‚                            O  early

      ‚                          O   non-belt

    5 ˆ                        O    FMVSS

      ‚                    O O     phase in

      ‚                O O

      ‚          O O O

    0 ˆO O O O O

      ‚

     

       1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   1   2   2

       9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   9   0   0

       6   6   6   6   6   7   7   7   7   7   8   8   8   8   8   9   9   9   9   9   0   0

       0   2   4   6   8   0   2   4   6   8   0   2   4   6   8   0   2   4   6   8   0   2

 

                                          CALENDAR YEAR

 

 


Estimates of lives saved by each FMVSS  Car/LTV safety technologies saved an estimated 24,561 lives in 2002, comprising 14,175 car occupants, 10,331 LTV occupants and 56 pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists saved by car/LTV braking improvements.  Table 3 shows how many lives were saved by the individual FMVSS – i.e., by the technologies associated with each FMVSS:

 


TABLE 3: ESTIMATES OF LIVES SAVED BY SAFETY TECHNOLOGIES IN 2002


FMVSS & Safety Technology

Car Occupants

LTV Occupants

Pedestrians

Bicyclists

Motorcyclists

TOTAL

105: Dual master cylinders & front disc brakes

  288

  199

56

   538

108: Conspicuity tape for heavy trailers

   91

68

 

   159

201: Voluntary mid/lower instrument panel improvements

  631

  299

 

   930

203/204: Energy-absorbing steering assemblies

1,660

  997

 

 2,657

206: Improved door locks

  704

  694

 

 1,398

208: Safety belts – all types, all seat positions

7,699

6,872

 

14,570*

208: Frontal air bags

1,642

  831

 

 2,473*

212: Adhesive windshield bonding

  229

  118

 

   347

213: Child safety seats

  223

  112

 

   335*

214: Side door beams & voluntary (pre-1994) TTI(d) reductions

  848

  146

 

   994

216: Roof crush strength (eliminate true hardtops)

  161

 

 

   161

Total

14,175

10,331

56

24,561

* NHTSA’s official estimates of lives saved by safety belts (14,164), air bags (2,248) and child restraints (376), published in Traffic Safety Facts 2002 – Occupant Protection, were computed by a similar method.  This report’s estimates are not identical; slightly different computational procedures were used to estimate the lives saved by all vehicle safety technologies, not just belts, air bags and safety seats.   


Table 4 shows cumulative lives saved from 1960 through 2002: 232,255 car occupants and 94,117 LTV occupants, plus 2,180 pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists saved by car/LTV braking improvements, for an estimated total of 328,551.  Safety belts (168,524) accounted for more than half the total.  Air bags, one of the most recent technologies, had saved 12,074 lives by the end of 2002, and child safety seats, 5,954.  The “built in” non-belt technologies regulated by the remaining nine FMVSS in Table 4 (105, 108, 201, 203/204, 206, 212, 214 and 216) add up to 142,000 lives saved; energy-absorbing steering assemblies, improved door locks, and voluntary instrument panel improvements saved the most lives.

 


TABLE 4: ESTIMATES OF LIVES SAVED BY SAFETY TECHNOLOGIES IN 1960-2002


FMVSS & Safety Technology

Car Occupants

LTV Occupants

Pedestrians

Bicyclists

Motorcyclists

TOTAL

105: Dual master cylinders & front disc brakes

  7,993

2,880

2,180

13,053

108: Conspicuity tape for heavy trailers

    683

422

 

1,105

201: Voluntary mid/lower instrument panel improvements

 16,670

4,373

 

21,043

203/204: Energy-absorbing steering assemblies

 41,545

11,472

 

53,017

206: Improved door locks

 19,504

9,398

 

28,902

208: Safety belts – all types, all seat positions

109,519

59,004

 

168,524

208: Frontal air bags

  8,770

3,304

 

12,074

212: Adhesive windshield bonding

  5,248

1,462

 

6,710

213: Child safety seats

  4,854

1,100

 

5,954

214: Side door beams & voluntary (pre-1994) TTI(d) reductions

 14,002

701

 

14,703

216: Roof crush strength (eliminate true hardtops)

  3,466

 

 

3,466

Total

232,255

94,117

2,180

328,551


 

Comments on some assumptions in the model  The effectiveness estimates used in the model derive from past NHTSA evaluations.  Estimates were based on statistical analyses of crash data, comparing fatality risk in vehicles built just before and just after make-models were equipped with the technology; the reductions were statistically significant, and the analyses attempted to statistically control for factors other than the technology by using double-pair comparison, control groups, logistic regression, or other techniques.  However, in the preparation of this report, the estimates in past evaluations were generally not updated with data that subsequently had become available.

 

The basic assumption of the model is that FARS fatality cases with a safety technology are evidence of additional crashes where that technology saved lives: if there are 100 belted fatalities in a type of crash where statistical analysis shows 50 percent belt effectiveness, there must have been another 100 people in potentially fatal crashes who were saved by the belt.  This is a leap of faith to the extent that we cannot identify those 100 specific crashes were occupants were “saved by the belt” – we assume they must exist, based on our effectiveness estimate.

 

The model simulates “removing” safety equipment from a modern vehicle one piece at a time, starting with the most recent technology and working backward.  Some of these technologies were introduced at about the same time, and it is not always obvious which was first: for some of the earliest ones, there is limited written information, and the people who worked on them have long since retired.  A case could be made for changing the order of “removing” the technologies.  The model would still produce the same estimate of overall lives saved, but the allocation among the FMVSS could change.

 

The model assumes that the belt use of fatally injured occupants (not survivors) on FARS is accurately reported.  NHTSA has long believed this to be true, based on statistical analyses comparing FARS data with belt use observed in surveys.  In the future, conceivably, event data recorders could provide more direct evidence on belt use in crash data files.

 

Finally, when the model says vehicle safety technology saved 328,551 lives, it means there would have been that many additional fatalities in 1960-2002 if everything else had stayed the same: the same increase in VMT from 1960-2002, the same driving behaviors.  It is somewhat of a paper estimate.  If safety belts and the other modern vehicle safety technologies had never been invented, and if occupant fatalities had continued climbing toward 57,000 instead of remaining near 32,000, as shown in Table 2, the public might have demanded much stronger regulation of drivers (e.g., licensing) or the infrastructure (e.g., speed limits).  Consumers might purchase a different mix of vehicles (e.g., larger cars) and some people might be more reluctant to travel during the riskiest hours (e.g., weekend nights).   Those measures might have prevented at least some of the additional 328,551 fatalities – but surely not as efficiently, and with as little impairment of driving enjoyment and mobility as the vehicle safety technologies.

 



[1] Applied to cars and LTVs, but also saves pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists not hit by these cars and LTVs.

[2] Applied to heavy trailers, but also saves occupants of cars and LTVs that avoid collisions with these trailers.

[3] NHTSA’s official estimate in Traffic Safety Facts 2002 – Occupant Protection, is 14,164 lives saved by safety belts.  This report uses slightly different computational procedures as it estimates the lives saved by all vehicle safety technologies, not just belts, air bags and safety seats.

[4] NHTSA’s official estimate in Traffic Safety Facts 2002 – Occupant Protection, is 2,248 lives saved by air bags. 

[5] NHTSA’s official estimate in Traffic Safety Facts 2002 – Occupant Protection, is 376 lives saved by child restraints.



pdf graphic The complete report is available here in pdf format. Part-1 Part-2

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