Cars and light trucks come with dozens of standard safety features that add hundreds of dollars to the vehicle's price. But are
they worth the cost? Traffic statistics are convincing, according to a Chicago Tribune
story by Rick Popely and Jim Mateja.
In 1966, before a federal traffic safety agency was created to develop regulations for new
vehicles, 50,894 Americans died in highway accidents. That includes people on motorcycles and bicycles and pedestrians, as well as occupants of all types of vehicles.
By 2000, the latest year for which statistics are available, the number of deaths had fallen to 41,821. Traffic fatalities declined 18 percent in that period though the number of vehicles on the road more than doubled to 217 million from 95.7 million and the number of
licensed drivers nearly doubled to 190.6 million.
Seat belts, one of the few safety features required in 1966, receive most of the credit. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency established to oversee these regulations, estimates that front seat belts saved 11,899 lives in
2000. NHTSA puts an asterisk on this statistic by saying it counts lives saved by seat belts first and air bags second. If someone is belted when an air bag deploys, the belt gets the credit, even if the air bag helped.