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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Car Accidents: Taking Issue with the IIHS

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is one of the most well-respected voices in striving to reduce car accident injuries and deaths. The organization, which crash-tests and rates vehicles, has arguably done more to ensure the safety of every one of us on the road than any other non-governmental organization. However, in its most recent Status Report (August 21, 2010), it focuses on misplaced criticism of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and others. The IIHS claims that putting emphasis on defective automobiles as in the Toyota recalls, defective equipment such as faulty tires, or on cell phones as a cause of distracted driving, the NHTSA, personal injury lawyers, and the general public are missing many opportunities to help make people safer on the road. But in this the Institute both overestimates the impact of some changes and ignores the potential benefits resulting from the efforts of NHTSA and others.

For example, it says, speeding is a factor in about one-third of all fatal crashes. Therefore, policy emphasis should be on reducing speed limits and increasing enforcement with roadside cameras to catch violators. In its alarmist report on speed limits, it notes that since control of speed limits was passed back to the states in 1995, speed limits have risen on rural and urban highways. However, its own data notes that speed limits are only roughly correlated with actual average speeds, as shown in the following graph comparing the speed limit with actual speeds traveled in or around seven or eight metropolitan areas:

Looking at this data, it's clear that while there is a general correlation between posted speed limits and average vehicle speed, lowering the speed limit does not necessarily lead to slower vehicle speeds. Instead, it is more likely the local driving habits have the biggest impact on speed. Compare, for example, Denver and Boston. In Boston, IIHS reports the speed limits as 65 for rural highways, 55 for urban highways, and 45 for arterial roads, while the average vehicle speeds are 67, 62, and 62, respectively. In Denver, the speed limits are 75, 55, and 40, while the average vehicle speeds are 70, 56, and 42. Bostonians, it seems, are more likely to drive in the 60s--regardless of the posted speed limit-- than Denverites, who seem to pay more attention to posted speed limits.

The IIHS also took aim at the NHTSA's campaign against distracted driving. It cited data that laws against cell phone use while driving reduce cell phone use, but not accidents. While cell phone laws enacted by many states may be ineffective, the NHTSA's campaign, it should be noted, focuses on all forms of distracted driving, not just cell phones or texting.

Finally, the main point that the IIHS neglects in its report is to note that, despite rising speed limits, cell phones, and other factors, the number of auto accident deaths in this country has dropped to its lowest level since recordkeeping began in the 1950s. This is due in part to the IIHS. But we should also not neglect the tireless efforts of the NHTSA in getting people to use seatbelts and avoid cell phone use, as well as the efforts of personal injury lawyers in highlighting defective roadways, vehicles, and equipment that lead to needless deaths.

If you have lost a loved one in a fatal car accident, the lawyer of The Cochran Firm stand ready to help highlight the cause of the accident, and, if possible, save other families from suffering a similar tragedy. Please call or email us today for a free initial case evaluation.

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posted by Benjamin A. Irwin at 11:23 AM

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