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Which factors are most responsible for car wrecks?

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A recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has identified what factors create the most danger in traffic crashes, and which are most protective. Interestingly, although the largest share of federal traffic safety dollars is spent on speed enforcement, only about 7 percent of all accidents are attributable to excessive speed.

The factor that contributed much more significantly than speed to traffic crashes was, unsurprisingly, alcohol intoxication. NHTSA found that fully 20 percent of drivers killed in motor vehicle wrecks were found to have been above the legal limit of 0.08 percent blood-alcohol.

The good news is that traffic fatalities are decreasing overall in the U.S. The latest data shows that 2017's traffic death rate continued a downward trend from a 2005 peak of 1.46 deaths per hundred million miles traveled. It did represent an increase, however, over the all-time low of 1.08 in 2014.

What could be causing that decline? The NHTSA study indicates that it may be caused in part by a change in the makeup of America's "fleet" of private passenger vehicles. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of sedans and coupes on American roads dropped from about 139 million to 134 million. Meanwhile, 31 million additional SUVs and light trucks hit the road. Light trucks, vans and SUVs have a 21-percent lower fatality rate than the smaller passenger vehicles, so the shift toward larger vehicles drove down the overall fatality rate.

A critical factor in the survivability of any traffic accident is seat belt use. According to NHTSA, drivers neglected to buckle up in 41 percent of fatal accidents in the daytime and 56 percent of deadly nighttime crashes -- and even those number may be too low.

NHTSA was concerned that the fatality information might underestimate the number of drivers who fail to wear seatbelts, so it attempted a real-world check. The agency used electronic data recorder ("black box") information to determine whether driver's self-reports about seat belt use were accurate. They found that drivers indeed overreport their use of seat belts.

That's unfortunate, because NHTSA says that seat belt use reduces fatality risk by 45 percent among drivers and front-seat passengers in cars -- and by 60 percent in SUVs, vans and light trucks.

If you have been involved in a serious traffic crash, it's too late for statistics to matter. What can make a difference is calling a personal injury attorney for an evaluation of your case. A lawyer can help ensure you receive full, fair compensation for your injuries and losses.

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