How safe are you? How safe is your vehicle?

The following information was recently released by the Insurance Information Institute and provides critical and somewhat alarming statistics. Take the time to read this it will open your eyes when they need to be opened.

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Auto Crashes

THE TOPIC

FEBRUARY 2011

The cost and crashworthiness of vehicles as well as drivers’ safety habits affect the cost of auto insurance. In 2009, 33,808 people died in motor vehicle crashes and an additional 2,217,000 people were injured, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Out of concern for public safety and to help reduce the cost of crashes, insurers support safe driving initiatives. In 1969 the insurance industry created the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an organization best known for its vehicle crashworthiness-testing program. In the 197os the industry began the campaign to get auto manufacturers to make air bags standard equipment in vehicles. It is a major supporter of antidrunk driving and seatbelt usage campaigns. Drivers themselves have also contributed to the reduction in crash-related fatalities by demanding safer vehicles. Eighty-six percent of respondents in a February 2010 IIHS survey said that safety is a very important consideration when buying a new car. Only 2 percent said it is not important.

KEY STATISTICS 

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of three and 34 except buy cytotec for seven-year olds (based on 2005 data).

A motor vehicle death occurs on average every 16 minutes and an injury every 14 seconds. About 93 people died each day in motor vehicle crashes in 2009.

Since the first documented crash death in 1899, more than 30 million people worldwide have died in traffic crashes. 

FATALITIES AND INJURIES

2009: According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov), 33,808 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2009, down 9.7 percent from 37,423 in 2008, despite the fact that the number of vehicle miles traveled increased by 0.2 percent. This was the lowest number of deaths since 1950, when 33,186 people died in motor vehicle crashes. The fatality rate in 2009, measured as deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, was 1.13, the lowest rate ever recorded and down from 1.26 in 2008.

In 2009, 2,217,000 Americans were injured in traffic crashes, down 5.5 percent from 2,346,000 in 2008.

Severity of Crashes: In 2009 there were 5,505,000 police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes, down 5.3 percent from 5,811,000 in 2008. Of total crashes, 1,517,000 caused injuries and 3,957,000 caused property damage only. NHTSA estimates 10 million or more crashes go unreported every year.

Work-Related: In 2009 crashes involving vehicles on public roadways were the leading cause of work-related fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting for 20 percent of all fatal work injuries.

By Age Group: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2008 older people (65 and older) made up 15 percent of all traffic fatalities, 14 percent of vehicle occupant fatalities and 18 percent of pedestrian fatalities, in large part because they are frailer and more likely to die from their injuries than younger people. (See Older Drivers paper.) In 2007 (latest data available) there were 31 million older licensed drivers, up 19 percent from 1997. The total number of drivers rose only 13 percent from 1997 to 2007.

In 2008 drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 accounted for 12 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes and for 14 percent of all drivers in police-reported crashes. In 2007 (latest available data) drivers in this age group accounted for 6.4 percent of all licensed drivers. To reduce high accident rates among young drivers, states are increasingly adopting graduated driver license programs, which allow young drivers to improve their skills and driving habits.

In 2009 there were 62 million children age 14 and younger, according to NHTSA, or 20 percent of the resident population of the United States. This group accounted for 1,314, or 4 percent, of the 33,808 traffic fatalities in 2009, down 3 percent from 1,350 killed in 2008. An additional 179,000 children were injured in 2009, down 7 percent from 193,000 in 2008. On average, four children were killed and 490 injured every day in motor vehicle crashes in 2009.

By Driver Behavior

Speeding: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2008, 11,674 lives were lost due to speed-related accidents. Speeding was a contributing factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes. In 2008, 37 percent of 15- to 24-year-old male drivers who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash. NHTSA says that speed-related crashes cost Americans $40.4 billion each year. A crash is considered speed related when the driver is charged with a speed-related offense or a law enforcement officer indicates that exceeding the posted speed limit, driving too fast for conditions or racing was a contributing factor.

Drunk Driving: NHTSA defines alcohol-impaired crashes as those that involve at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above, the legal definition of drunk driving.  In 2009, 10,839 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes, down 7.4 percent from 11,711 in 2008. In 2009, alcohol-impaired crash fatalities accounted for 32 percent of all crash deaths. (See Drunk Driving paper.) There is an alcohol-impaired traffic fatality every 48 minutes.

Drunk Driving and Speeding: In 2008, 41 percent of intoxicated drivers (with a blood-alcohol content at or above 0.08 percent) involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared with 15 percent of sober drivers involved in fatal crashes.

Red Light Running: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS, http://www.iihs.org/ ) says that more than 900 people a year die and nearly 2,000 are injured as a result of vehicles running red lights. About half of those deaths are pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles who are hit by red light runners.

Fatigue: A study released in November 2010 conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety using NHTSA data for 1999-2008 found that 16.5 percent, or about one in six fatal crashes, involved a drowsy driver. These findings are much higher than a previous survey (1983-1993 data) by NHTSA that showed that about 3.6 percent of fatalities involved a drowsy driver In addition, a survey  found that 41 percent of drivers said they had fallen asleep or “nodded off” while driving at least once in their lives and 11 percent said they had in the last year.

Distracted Driving: A September 2010 study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that in 2010 5,474 people were killed and 448,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving. The percentage of people killed in such crashes rose from 10 percent of all motor vehicle crash fatalities in 2005 to 16 percent in 2009. Of those people killed, 995 involved reports of a cell phone as a distraction, or 18 percent of all distracted driving crash fatalities.

Some form of driver inattention was involved in almost 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes within three seconds of the event, according to an April 2006 study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study broke new ground—earlier research found that driver inattention was responsible for 25 to 30 percent of crashes. The 2006 study found that the most common distraction was the use of cell phones, followed by drowsiness. However, cell phone use was far less likely to be the cause of a crash or near miss than other distractions. For example, while reaching for a moving object such as a falling cup increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by nine times, talking or listening on a hand-held cell phone only increased the risk by 1.3 times. The study tracked the behavior of the 241 drivers of 100 vehicles for more than one year. The drivers were involved in 82 crashes, 761 near-crashes and 8,295 critical incidents. (See also Cell phones and Driving.)

Cell phone Use: In September 2009 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Center for Statistics and Analysis released the results of their National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), which found that in 2008, 6 percent of drivers used hand-held cell phones, the same percentage as in 2007. Hand-held cell phone use was highest among 16 to 24 year olds (8 percent in 2008, down from 9 percent in 2007) and lowest among drivers 70 and older (1 percent in both 2007 and 2008). Hand-held cell phone use by drivers in the West increased from 6 to 7 percent from 2007 to 2008, but fell in the Northeast (from 5 to 4 percent), the Midwest (from 6 to 5 percent) and the South (from 8 to 7 percent). Data on driver cell phone use were collected at random stop signs or stoplights only while vehicles were stopped and only during daylight hours.

Many studies have shown that using hand-held cell phones while driving can constitute a hazardous distraction. However, the theory that hands-free sets are safer has been challenged by the findings of several studies. A study from researchers at the University of Utah, published in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors concludes that talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk, even if the phone is a hands-free model. An earlier study by researchers at the university found that motorists who talked on hands-free cell phones were 18 percent slower in braking and took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked.

In October 2009 the President issued an executive order banning federal employees from texting while driving a federal government vehicle, driving their own vehicle while on government business or driving and using a government-issued device. In January 2010 the federal government prohibited texting by interstate truckers and operators of vehicles carrying eight passengers or more.

A number of states have passed laws to address the problem of using a cell phone while driving. Nine states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah, Washington State— and the District of Columbia have a law banning the use of hand-held cell phones behind the wheel for all drivers. At least 38 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning or restricting young drivers from using cell phones.

Washington State was the first state to ban the practice of texting with a cell phone while driving. Text messaging is now banned for all drivers in at about 30 states. However, a 2010 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that texting bans may not reduce crash rates. The study looked at collision claims patterns in four states—California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington—before and after texting bans went into effect. Collisions went up slightly in all the states, except Washington, where the change was statistically insignificant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in September 2010 that the economic toll of crash-related injuries was about $100 billion. The study was based on 2005 data. That figure works out to $500 per driver per year in the United States. Young drivers and motorcyclists represent more than a third of these costs, which include the societal costs for medical care, treatment, rehabilitation and lost wages and productivity. There were more than 3.7 million motor vehicle crash deaths and injuries in the United States that resulted in medical care in 2005.  The study details these costs by type of vehicle, type of person (such as pedestrians and bicyclists), sex and age. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that adding higher insurance premiums, taxes and travel delays to the mix more than doubles the cost, to $230.6 billion.

Hit and Run Crashes: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) there were 1,106 fatal hit and run crashes in 2005, that is, crashes where the driver left the scene after a collision with a person not in a motor vehicle. In this analysis NHTSA does not include hit and run collisions between vehicles only. Hit and run crashes in 2005 were up 20.6 percent from 917 in 2000. In 2005, 2,610 people died in these crashes, a 14.4 percent increase from 2,281 in 2000. There were 1,231 vehicles involved in these crashes in 2006, up 20.0 percent from 1,026 in 2000.

Deer Collisions: SState Farm estimates that there were 2.3 million collisions between deer and vehicles in the United States during the two-year period between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2010, 21.1 percent more than five years earlier. Deer collisions are much more likely to occur during the last three months of the year and in the early evening. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that deer collisions cause about 200 fatalities a year. The average property damage cost of these collisions was $3,103, up 1.7 percent from a year ago.

For the fourth year in a row, West Virginia tops the list of those states where a collision with a deer is most likely. State Farm calculates the chances of a West Virginia driver striking a deer at 1 in 42.

By Vehicle

SUVs: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the number of people killed in SUV rollover crashes fell 15.6 percent from 2,748 in 2007 to 2,424 in 2008. In 2008 SUVs had the highest passenger vehicle occupant fatality rate in rollovers of any vehicle type—5.96 per 100,000 registered vehicles, contrasted with 5.94 percent for pickups, 2.74 percent for vans and 2.62 percent for passenger cars. While rollover fatality rates for all vehicles fell in 2009 from 2008, they fell most for SUVs, down 17.8 percent from 7.25 in 2008.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) issued a report in March 2008 that indicates that roof strength in SUVs significantly influences injury risk. The IIHS came to this conclusion by testing the roof strength of SUVs in much the same way that the government requires of automakers and then relating the findings to the real-world death and injury experience of the same vehicles in single-vehicle rollover crashes. The IIHS tested 11 mid-size SUVs that did not have electronic stability control or side curtain airbags, features that might affect injury rates in rollovers. Researchers concluded that if the roofs of all of the SUVs tested had the same strength as the strongest roof in the test, about 212, or almost one-third of the 668 deaths that occurred in these SUVs in 2006, would have been prevented.

Motorcycles: NHTSA reports that in 2009, 4,462 motorcyclists died in crashes, down by 850, or 16 percent, from 5,312 fatalities in 2008 and breaking a streak of 11 years of continuous increases. In addition, motorcycle rider fatalities fell to 13 percent of all motor vehicle crash fatalities, compared with 14 percent in 2008. (See Motorcycle Crashes paper.) In 2007 (latest data available for registration statistics) motorcycles accounted for about 3 percent of all registered motor vehicles and 0.4 percent of vehicle miles traveled. However, per vehicle mile traveled in 2007, motorcyclists were about 37 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash and nine times more likely to be injured.

Large Trucks: According to NHTSA, 3,380 people died in crashes involving large trucks in 2009, down 20 percent from 4,245 in 2008. Although large trucks amounted to 4 percent of all registered vehicles in 2008 (latest year available for registration statistics), they accounted for 8 percent of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes in 2008. One out of nine traffic fatalities in 2008 resulted from a collision involving a large truck.

SAFETY

Crashworthiness: Crashworthiness, a term which refers to how well vehicles withstand different types of crashes, varies by category of vehicle as well as by make, model and year. Two groups conduct tests to determine crashworthiness—the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which is an insurance-funded organization, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The IIHS conducts four types of tests on a large variety of vehicles: Low speed crash tests, rear crash protection tests, side impact crash tests and 40-mph frontal crash offset tests. NHTSA conducts two tests that are similar to the IIHS’s frontal crash and side crash tests. NHTSA also publishes rollover safety ratings by make and model year, and tire ratings by brand. The IIHS vehicle ratings can be found on the Internet at http://www.highwaysafety.org; NHTSA test results can be found at http://www.safercar.gov

Lives Saved by Safety Devices

Airbags: Airbags are designed to inflate in moderate to severe frontal crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that by 2008, 180 million passenger vehicles were equipped with airbags, including 170 million with dual airbags. NHTSA says that frontal airbags saved 2,381 lives in 2009. Airbags, combined with seatbelts, are the most effective safety protection available for passenger vehicles. Seatbelts alone reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent. The fatality-reducing effectiveness for airbags is 14 percent when no seatbelt is used and 11 percent when a seatbelt is used in conjunction with airbags. Side airbags, which protect the head, chest and abdomen, reduce driver deaths by an estimated 37 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Seatbelts: Among passenger vehicle occupants over the age of four, seatbelts saved an estimated 12,713 lives in 2009 and 72,000 lives from 2005 through 2009. Seatbelts are effective in protecting occupants from ejection, one of the most injurious results of a crash, according to NHTSA. In fatal crashes in 2008, 77 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed. Only 1 percent of occupants reported to have been using restraints were total ejected, compared with 30 percent of unrestrained occupants.

Child Safety Seats: NHTSA says that in 2009 the lives of an estimated 309 children under the age of five were saved by restraints (child safety seats or adult seatbelts).

Motorcycle Helmets: Helmets saved 1,483 lives in 2009, according to NHTSA, and could have saved an additional 732 if all motorcyclists had worn helmets. Helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcyclists.

Electronic Stability Control: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will require all vehicles for the model year 2012 to have electronic stability control (ESC). ESC was designed to help prevent rollovers and other types of crashes by controlling brakes and engine power. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that ESC would save 10,000 lives each year if all vehicles had the system. By 2009 55 percent of all vehicles were required to have ESC.

In June 2010 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released the findings of a study that found that ESC for passenger vehicles is one of the most effective technologies for the prevention of fatal crashes, especially rollovers. IIHS data show that it lowers the risk of a deadly crash by 33 percent and cuts the risk of a single-vehicle rollover by 73 percent. The IIHS examined 10 years of crash data from NHTSA.

OTHER SAFETY ISSUES

Vehicle Size and Weight: Small cars generally do not protect people in crashes as well as bigger, heavier models. Extra weight and size enhance occupant protection in collisions, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which conducted three head-on collision crash tests each involving a micro- or mini-car and a midsize model made by the same manufacturer. The three small cars earned good frontal crashworthiness scores when crashed into barriers at 40 mph. However, when a small car and a midsize car crashed, the risk of injury to the occupants of the smaller vehicle increased. The IIHS says that the fatality rate in 1 to 3 year-old mini-cars in multiple vehicle crashes in 2007 was almost twice as high as the rate in very large cars of the same age. Consumers buy minicars, such as the Honda Fit, Mercedes Smart Fortwo and Toyota Yaris, to conserve gas and save money and in response to environmental concerns.

In June 2009 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released the results of seven low-speed impact tests of micro- and mini-cars. The study found that one fender-bender type impact alone results in damage costing from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Five of the seven cars had poor ratings in the four tests, and one produced a marginal rating. The worst car racked up $9,380 in total damage in the tests, earning a poor rating, while the best performer, which earned an acceptable rating (none earned a good rating) incurred $3,281 in damage.

Auto Insurance Discounts: According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, as of the end of 2010, 33 states and the District of Columbia mandate discounts for older motorists, usually over the age of 55. Thirteen states mandate discounts for vehicles equipped with antitheft devices or VIN window etching, and nine require discounts for passive restraints such as airbags, seatbelts or seatbelt use.

Fourteen states mandate discounts for drivers who complete defensive driving or other training programs, in addition to discounts provided to people who are 55 years old and over.  Two states mandate discounts for motorcyclists who complete a training course, and four states mandate discounts for certain safety devices and six for good drivers.

In general the state mandated discounts apply to the coverage’s that are most relevant to the discount. For example, older adult discounts would apply to liability coverage’s and antitheft device discounts would apply to the comprehensive portion of the auto insurance policy. However, the regulations vary by state. For instance in Massachusetts the older adult discount applies to all coverage’s for drivers over the age of 65.

Insurers offer discounts to encourage drivers to focus on safety. Some insurers have nationwide discounts in place. State Farm, for example, offers as much as a 15 percent discount for drivers under age 25 who complete a safe driving program. Other companies have programs in selected states. Progressive’s newly updated Snapshot program is designed to benefit safe, defensive drivers. It offers a discount to drivers in 15 states who use a monitor in their vehicle that tracks mileage and times of the day the vehicle is used, along with driver behaviors such as how quickly the car speeds up and slows down. New customers earn a first-time discount of up to 10 percent of their total auto insurance premium for signing up. After thirty days, they can earn a discount that can reach 30 percent and averages about 10 to 15 percent. Policyholders use the device for six months.

In general, those who would benefit most from the program are low-mileage, defensive drivers who do most of their driving in daytime hours. Drivers who have poor driving habits such as hard braking and accelerating could end up paying a surcharge.

At least two insurers offer insurance discounts to owners of “hybrid” cars, which combine a battery-powered engine with a traditional gas engine. One offers a 10 percent discount on all auto insurance coverage’s, except uninsured motorist and personal injury protection (PIP), basing the discount on the driver rather than on safety device or safety training. The other insurer offers a 10 percent discount (5 percent in California) on all major coverage’s, including uninsured motorists and PIP. However, when the discounts were first put into effect, insurers viewed hybrid owners as less risky drivers than the average driver, based on demographics, driving records, credit data, marital status and driving patterns. New information from Mitchell International Inc., which publishes Industry Trend Reports, says that environmentally concerned drivers are not the sole demographic driving hybrid cars. Rising gas prices are now the primary reason people purchase hybrids, and they are being driven more often for long commutes. Mitchell says that the average claim severity for hybrids is 6.5 percent higher than for gas-powered vehicles and that hybrid repairs use more original manufacturers’ parts than generic crash parts (See paper, Generic Crash Parts.). The Highway Loss Data Institute also says that hybrids have higher collision claim frequencies than other vehicles.

Seatbelt Use Laws: Seatbelt use laws are on the books in every state except New Hampshire. However, only 31 states and the District of Columbia have primary enforcement laws, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  Primary seatbelt laws allow law enforcement officers to stop a car for noncompliance with seatbelt laws (See chart in following section). In the other states, which have secondary enforcement laws, drivers may only be stopped and they and their passengers ticketed, if they have violated other traffic safety laws. In New Hampshire, legislation requiring seatbelt use was rejected by the Senate in May 2007, leaving it the only state in the nation that does not have a law requiring adults to wear seatbelts.

NHSTA says that states with primary enforcement laws have lower fatality rates. The agency compared the percentage of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant fatalities and fatality rates between states that have primary seatbelt use laws and states that did not have them for 2005 and 2006. Besides having a smaller percentage of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities that were unrestrained, the fatality rates in primary enforcement states were much lower than for all other states. In primary enforcement states the passenger vehicle occupant fatality rates were 0.97 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled and 10.20 per 100,000 populations. This compares to 1.06 and 11.78 (respectively) for all other states.

Seatbelt use in the United States reached a record high of 84 percent in 2009, compared with 83 percent in 2008, according to NHTSA. States with primary seatbelt laws had an average 88 percent usage rate, 11 points higher than the 77 percent in states with secondary laws. New incentives to increase seatbelt use were included in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Act of 2005. The Act made $498 million available for distribution over four years to states that enact primary seatbelt laws or reach 85 percent belt use for two years.

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