The numbers are nothing short of staggering: Since 2000, more Americans have died in car crashes than did in both World Wars. Government data shows that more than 624,000 people died in car crashes, easily outdistancing the 535,000 American military personnel who died in World War I and World War II combined. More than 30 million people were injured in those crashes.
The overwhelming majority of the wrecks were cause by one or more of three causes — speeding, drunken driving or distracted driving.
By comparison, the opioid epidemic killed nearly 100,000 people between 2006 and 2012. During those same years, speeding, drunk and distracted driving combined to result in 190,455 deaths.
In nearly 213,000 of the fatal crashes between 2000 and 2017, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, the drivers were above the legal limit for drinking and driving — a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or greater. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that a decline in drunken driving crashes slowed in the mid-1990s.
More than 197,000 people died as the result of speeding since 2000.
Nearly 78,000 people have died in crashes caused by distracted driving since 2000.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 481,000 drivers are using their cellphones during daylight hours. Cellphone use while driving caused 800 deaths in 2017.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety determined that those who talk on a cellphone while driving are four times more likely to crash, and those who text and drive are up to eight times more likely to crash. Still, the number of drivers who say they talk on their cellphones regularly or fairly often while driving has increased 46 percent since 2013.
In one concession to increased safety on the road, a pair of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studies showed that most of those using cellphones were talking rather than texting or dealing with emails.
Nodding off has caused more than 10,000 deaths since asleep-at-the-wheel statistics were broken into a separate category in 2005. A 2014 AAA Foundation study found that about 21% of crashes involved a drowsy driver and concluded drivers who had less than four hours of sleep had 11½ times the crash risk.
Although seat belts were first mandated in 1968, and nearly 89% of people involved in fatal crashes were using them, more than 220,000 of them killed since 2000 were not.
Just increasing the speed limit has resulted in nearly 37,000 deaths over the past 25 years, according to a report from the IIHS.
“Where’s the social outrage? There should be social outrage,” Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National transportation Safety Board, told The Washington Post.
Americans should demand – and be willing to pay for — better enforcement to end the carnage on our roadways.