Automobile Safety in the US – Why is it so bad?

by Jeffrey J. Downey, Esq

In the last decade two passengers were killed in accidents on U.S. Airlines.  Compare that to car safety, where in the last ten years over 360,000 Americans have been killed in car accidents.

The reality is that this country’s safety record in motor vehicle  transportation systems is one of the worst among wealthy industrialized nations. Automobile and related accidents caused the death of some 42, 939 Americans in 2021.  Those numbers have increased by nearly one-third in the last 10 years, while other industrialized countries have managed to decrease car accident fatalities. In Virginia alone there were 973 deaths in 2021, with a population of 8,657,365.

In Europe automobile accidents leading to deaths dropped by 22% in the last decade.  Auto accidents causing death are just behind guns as the second greatest killer of children.  In addition, minorities are disproportionately likely to suffer a fatality on U.S. roads. Even pedestrians are at risk, with 7,508 pedestrians being killed last year alone.



Our government needs to become more focused on preventing automobile related deaths, explains Virginia personal injury Jeffrey J. Downey.  Compared to Canada, Americans are three times more likely to die from an auto crash.   These statistics are not well known, and politicians need to address this problem with a sense of urgency.  Now that money has been set aside for infrastructure, safety needs to become a renewed focus, explains Downey.  If we can figure out how to fly through the sky at 450 miles per hour with an exemplary safety record, we should be able to improve basic road safety.

Distracted drivers using cell phones is a major problem.  We have all seen them on the road.  Drivers with one hand on the steering wheel and another hand on their cell phones.  These drivers represent a serious hazard on the road and new statistics reveal the risks.  Pokémon Go only increased this risk, as the new app encourages players to capture Pokémon while traveling to different locations.

Recent estimates reveal that over 3000 people a year are killed in the United States from distracted drivers.  California has recently suggested a ban on playing Pokémon games while driving and other states may follow soon.  In the American traffic engineering government bureaucracy, there exists a well circulated myth that the vast majority of crashes are caused by “human error,” transportation writer David Zipper explained in the Atlantic in 2021.  As Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg recently acknowledged, traffic deaths are at unacceptable levels, and he pointed to road design as an important contributing factor.

A recent study by State Farm Insurance showed that 97% of all drivers now have smart phones. Some 36% of drivers text while driving (as of 2015), up 5 percent since 2009.  The younger the driver, the more likely he or she is using the cell phone while driving.  We also have numerous road systems and bridges that are simply not safe.  We need stronger penalties for drivers who drive while texting. Researchers at the University of Houston claim that such distracted driving causes drivers to shut down their “sixth sense.” They point to an areas of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex, which causes the jitters when drivers, who are distracted, must return to their driving tasks.

In Virginia drivers are now precluded from texting while driving.  The fine is $125 for the first offense and 250 for subsequent offenses.  Other states like New York ban the use of any cell phone while driving.  Virginia has not gone down that road yet, but we can expect a strengthening of these laws as local governments realize the serious risk that such activities pose for drivers, explains McLean personal injury lawyer, Jeffrey J. Downey.

If you have been involved in an automobile accident, it’s important to evaluate the extent to which a road design or failure contributed to your accident.  However, since the government is generally subject to qualified immunity for road design issues, it can be difficult to establish liability.



If you have been injured in an accident or are seeking more information about traffic safety, contact our office.  Our initial consultation is free, and you pay no attorney’s fees unless we win or settle your case.


Law Office of Jeffrey J. Downey, serving Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.

300 Greensboro Drive, Suite 810

McLean, VA, 22101

Phone 703-563 7318


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