Cars and trucks get lost after a deadly crash of several vehicles on an ice-covered I-35 in a photo from a video in Fort Worth, Texas, on February 11, 2021.

NBC5 | via Reuters

The new cars sold in the US today are the safest and most advanced ever produced, but last year the number of road deaths reached its peak. the highest level in 16 years.

The problem is complex: it’s a combination of reckless or distracted driving, mostly due to cell phone use; increase sales of trucks and SUVs; and higher vehicle performance, among other factors. In addition, the expected proliferation of electric vehicles with heavy batteries and record performance may not help this problem.

“We have a controversial car culture in America,” said Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the Center for Car Safety, a nonprofit that promotes consumer advocacy. “People want these bright, big tickets and we want to be able to do what we want in our cars, but at the same time we’re killing each other at a speed (almost) higher than ever before and something is needed must be done. “

It is estimated that in 2021, 42,915 people died in road accidents, which is 10.5% more than in 2020, and this is the highest figure since 2005, according to the National Road Safety Administration, Department of Transport.

Compared to 2019, the death rate rose by 18% – the highest two-year increase since 1946, when accidents rose by 37.6% compared to 1944, according to NHTSA data analyzed by CNBC.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Boutige called the situation a “crisis on America’s roads that we must address together,” while touting the Biden administration’s efforts to reverse the deadly trend.

But changing the death rate on US roads is not easy.

On the one hand, the NHTSA security service is sadly slowly adopting new guidelines or laws. And the vehicles that consumers are buying now, including the increasingly popular electric ones, are faster and heavier than modern cars, potentially posing a greater risk to pedestrians and people in older and smaller cars.

Weight and performance

Both the weight and power of vehicles are estimated be at the highest levelaccording to the Environmental Protection Agency.

These record numbers are of particular concern to security advocates. “The heavier the vehicle and the higher it is, the more likely it is to kill a pedestrian, and the more likely it is to be incompatible with a small sedan and cause serious damage,” Brooks said.

The EPA reports that average vehicle power has been steadily increasing for more than a decade and has increased by almost 80% since 1975. Preliminary data for the 2021 model year reached an average of 246 horsepower, with some newer. exceeds 700 horsepower and more.

The average weight has also grown like truck sales have grown in recent yearsand reached a record more than 4,100 pounds in the 2021 model year, according to the EPA.

While large trucks and SUVs can have luxurious price tags and high-tech safety features, their extra weight can be especially dangerous for pedestrians. Such vehicles are more deadly to pedestrians than cars, and are much more likely to hit pedestrians when cornering, according to research Road Safety Insurance Institute.

“Higher altitudes generally give you a longer view of the road, but one of the trade-offs, especially in large cars, is that right in front of your vehicle there is a blind spot for you,” said David Zubi, the Institute’s chief researcher. road safety insurance.

NHTSA estimates more than 7,300 pedestrians were killed by vehicles in 2021, up 13% from the previous year.

“The bigger the vehicle, the heavier it is, the more deadly it becomes during an accident, especially with vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists,” said Katie Chase, president of “Highway and Car Safety Lawyers.” “The tendency to drive big and heavy trucks harms everyone outside the vehicle.”

Electric cars pose an additional danger to U.S. roads. Electric cars often weigh more than their counterparts with internal combustion engines because of the power of their batteries. Conversely, many new EVs are equipped with the latest safety technology.

Performance is also higher in many EVs. For example, the Hummer EV weighs more than 9,000 pounds, which is more than twice the average car it has Watts to Freedom, or WTF, mode which accelerates the truck 0-60 miles per hour in about three seconds. The feature can be used anywhere. This is a dispersal time that used to be exclusively for sports cars.

And security experts are still studying whether Electricians light up more or less more often than traditional vehicles.

Behavior change

Research shows that it’s not just vehicles that are changing.

In 2020, Americans traveled the lowest number of miles in 18 years, when the blockade of the coronavirus reduced travel, according to Federal Highway Administration.

Many believed that fewer miles would mean fewer accidents. But in reality drivers were more careless and reckless, and, according to officials and federal figures, the death toll has risen.

Similarly, in 2021, more deaths corresponded to an increase in mileage of about 325 billion miles, or about 11.2%, compared to 2020, according to preliminary FHA data.

Despite the extra miles traveled, the mortality rate based on mileage has remained about the same since 2020. It is estimated that the death rate in 2021 was 1.33 deaths per 100 million miles traveled compared to 1.34 deaths in the previous year.

Experts say a combination of regulatory and behavioral changes is needed to reverse the trend toward mortality.

Simple changes depending on the driver, such as driving at a lower speed or pinning, can help. NHTSA reports that since 2019, the number of deaths of non-followers has increased by almost 21%.

“It seems like a major component of this increase in deaths is very behavioral, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop it. We just have to be prepared,” Brooks said.

Proponents of car safety also say standardizing new technologies, such as automatic emergency braking and blind spot monitoring, could help reduce accidents and deaths. Most of the fatalities are vehicles that are 10 years old and older and are not equipped with the latest safety technology.

“It takes some time for vehicles with new technology to infiltrate the population,” Chase said. “That’s why it’s so important that there is a requirement for these technologies to be included as standard equipment in new cars, not just in options and in higher-end vehicles like now.”

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