JUNE 2015
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The Changing Face of Traffic Safety

In 1966, the year that NHTSA was established as the National Highway Safety Bureau (becoming the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1970), 50,894 people died in motor vehicle crashes. In 2013, the Nation lost 32,719 lives – still a huge loss, but an improvement considering that there were more licensed drivers (212 million) in 2013 than the entire U.S. population in 1966 (197 million). Since motor vehicle crashes are preventable, even one life lost is too many.

Efforts to improve highway safety evolved alongside the development and evolution of the vehicles themselves. As safety issues arise, vehicle safety countermeasures are developed as well as highway safety countermeasures. These combined efforts combat the vehicle and roadway issues, as State, Federal, and advocacy partners work together to change driver behavior. This evolution has saved thousands of lives every year.

Seat belts, for example, were patented in 1885, first offered in American-made cars in 1949, and were required by law in all seating positions of vehicles in 1968. The first State law requiring belt use was passed in 1984, when few drivers (15%) wore their seat belts. In the latest survey, 87 percent of front seat occupants buckle up every day. In 2013 alone, the use of seat belts saved 12,584 lives. In the past 5 years, the use of seat belts in passenger vehicles saved over 62,000 lives.

Vehicles will continue to evolve – with vehicle-to-vehicle communication on the horizon and automated safety features already in place in many current model vehicles. NHTSA and its partners in the highway safety community will continue to strive to meet the safety needs of the driving public.

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