The American Insurance Association (AIA) has published a report – scant as it may be – trumpeting the large number of lives saved and injuries avoided on American roads, due to increased safety efforts over the past 40 years. Their analysis appears solid: comparing the number of fatalities and injuries per miles traveled over time. Given the increases in population and the average amount of miles driven (longer commutes, geographic mobility, just plain more on-the-go, etc), how many instances of such trauma would we have, if the rates of the 60s still applied, for example?
The analysis finds that we are seeing more than 11,000 fewer deaths annually, compared to the fatality rate in 1968. And over 500,000 fewer injuries annually, compared to the rate of 1988 (earlier data was apparently unavailable). Even when compared to just a decade ago, there are almost 1000 fewer annual fatalities, and 120,000 fewer injuries.
Now, at some level, this makes pure common sense, especially if you were around in the late 60s/early 70s. Most cars had lap belts at best, and almost no one wore them. No air bags. And while I have no idea how much statistical difference this makes, who can forget riding sans car seats as a kid, as likely to be on the floorboards or in the window well as belted in a normal seat? Also, the structural integrity of the vehicles themselves is much improved, with no small thanks to the work at the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, a group which has tirelessly pushed manufacturers to safety improvements. And that's just the most obvious stuff, leaving out mention of properly positioned headrests, anti-lock brakes, improvements in windshield visibility, improved headlights, center-mounted brake lights, and so forth.
I would have liked to see an analysis which reports, or at least estimates, the derived benefits from each of the safety improvements. Beyond the car, we might also point to road design improvements, such as brighter reflectors, easier curves, shoulder grooves, on/off ramps, etc. There has also been benefit from public awareness and increased penalties and enforcement of drunk driving, seat belt usage, car seat usage, red-light running, to name a few. For the most part, this has all been a nice working partnership between private enterprise, public interest groups, and governmental bodies.
If you work in this auto insurance industry, it is not misplaced pride to think of your work as bringing societal benefits. Not only do we help individual drivers with their specific traumas, but we also collectively work together to bring about improvements to our on-the-road lives, such that many, many lives are indeed saved. Now isn't that more fulfilling than peddling potato chips or merely moving money around?