When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its preliminary 2019 traffic fatality data early this year, it was good news. Each category of traffic fatality showed a decline, and those declines were part of a three-year trend:

  • Driver fatalities — down 3%
  • Passenger fatalities — down 4%
  • Motorcyclist fatalities — down 1%
  • Pedestrian fatalities — down 2%
  • Bicyclist fatalities — down 3%

The sheer number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents, however, is still shocking. According to statistical projections, approximately 36,120 people were killed in traffic crashes last year. That’s down from 2018 by about 440 deaths, or 1.2%.

The good news is that fatality rates, not just overall numbers, have dropped. In fact, if the statistical model holds up, 2019 could have the second-lowest fatality rate since NHTSA began recording traffic fatality data.

Unfortunately, fatalities in crashes where at least one large truck was involved are expected to increase. The Department of transportation has established a working group to focus on increasing safety for large trucks and buses.

Safety technology: What features are crucial?

What has reduced the overall fatality rate in motor vehicle accidents? One likely suspect is safety technology. It has improved substantially over the past decade or so and is increasingly available as a standard feature or on the aftermarket.

According to Forbes, there are some features that you shouldn’t do without:

Adaptive cruise control (ACC): This system locks on to the car in front of you, using sensors and radar, then applies the accelerator and brakes to keep you at a safe distance. When it senses a collision about to occur, it brakes and tightens the seatbelts.

Automatic emergency braking (AEB): This system senses potential collisions and takes action if the driver does not. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, vehicles with AEB experience 50% fewer rear-end collisions.

Lane departure warning/lane keep: Depending on which system, it either warns you if you are about to leave your lane or gently steers you back into your lane.

Blind spot detection: If you have ever had trouble seeing something in your blind spot, this system can see it for you. It warns you when a vehicle is approaching from the rear.

Rear-view cameras: Never back over something again. These cameras give you a clear view of what is behind your car, even under the bumper line, so you don’t hit small children or animals.

Safety exit assist: Only available on a few models now, this system keeps children from opening the back door when a vehicle or bicycle is approaching.

Facial recognition: Just starting to appear on mid-line vehicles, this combination of cameras and computers constantly measures your level of alertness and warns you if you’re not paying attention.

Traffic fatalities are down, but thousands of people are still killed each year. Safety technology can only go so far toward keeping us safe. Bad drivers need to be held accountable.