New technology is partly responsible for a continuing decline in the number of fatal accidents on U.S. highways.
Highway deaths dropped to 32,367 in 2011, which is the lowest they have been since 1949, according to new data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The numbers represent a 1.9 percent drop from 2010. Also, there has been a 26 percent decline in traffic fatalities since 2005.
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"The latest numbers show how the tireless work of our safety agencies and partners, coupled with significant advances in technology and continued public education, can really make a difference on our roadways," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an agency statement. "As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving, and driver distraction."
Also, 36 states saw lower traffic fatalities, led by Connecticut (100 fewer fatalities), North Carolina (93 fewer), Tennessee (86 fewer), Ohio (64 fewer) and Michigan (53 fewer).
"In the past several decades, we've seen remarkable improvements in both the way motorists behave on our roadways and in the safety of the vehicles they drive, and we're confident that NHTSA's 5-Star Safety Ratings Program and nationwide collaborations like ‘Click It or Ticket' and ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over' have played a key role in making our roads safer," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in the statement. "Even as we celebrate the progress we've made in recent years, we must remain focused on addressing the safety issues that are continuing to claim more than 30,000 lives each year."
The number of people killed in distracted-driving crashes increased to 3,331 in 2011, which is a two percent increase, according to InsideLine. Also, some 387,000 people were injured in distracted-driving crashes during 2011. That is a seven percent decline from the 416,000 people injured in crashes in 2010.
Despite some advancement in technology, there is still a lot more that can be done to improve safety.
Distraction-free driving is offered as an app feature on some phones, but there is no built-in option for a phone to block texts when driving, news reports said.
On the other hand, there is a device called Zoomsafer. It screens incoming calls and text messages. It will block text messages and responds with an automated message to tell the caller you are driving. It also announces the name of callers over a speaker. A similar device is the Key2SafeDriving.
News reports add that many motorists choose between a navigation system in a new car or their own GPS or smartphone/ tablet. But there is no feature to switch between them and have it displayed on the car's screen. More voice-activated commands are needed for the driver and more driverless cars are needed. Companies including Google are testing driverless cars.
Another test is going on in Ann Arbor, Mich., where some 2,800 cars, trucks and buses will start talking to each other, according to The Washington Times. The vehicles will send signals to each other, warning drivers if there is traffic stopped ahead or cars are traveling through a red light. Traffic lights can turn green – by communication devices – if no traffic is coming. Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai/Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen/Audi are supplying vehicles for the test.
Already, cars have blind-spot detectors to warn about a car in an adjoining lane and have radar-activated cruise control to slow cars if drivers are going too fast.
There many devices that can help to encourage safety in cars, according to GJEL.com. Bluetooth provides a hands-free device to answers calls and to use voice recognition to dial other phones. Another device is a TomTom, which is GPS-powered, and gives directions out loud to any address. Another device, called Speed Demon, alerts parents if a teen is driving too fast, or too dangerously. Another device is a pre-collision system, which anticipates and reacts to unavoidable frontal collisions. It activates the break assist system and tightens seatbelts if an accident is likely. Other devices include in-vehicle breathalyzers for drunk drivers and a drowsiness video sensor for tired drivers. New technology also warns drivers when they drift from their lane, and helps them get back into the correct lane.
Edited by Brooke Neuman