Traffic deaths in the United States have dropped to their lowest level since 1949, according to a report released this month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Remarkably, this drop occurred even as Americans drove 21 billion more miles in 2010 than they had the previous year.
The drop in fatalities is due in large part to the fact that cars are getting safer. Since the introduction of the Ford Pinto nearly four decades ago — a car synonymous with danger, destruction and executives putting profits ahead of consumer safety — amazing advancements have been made in auto safety. The technology is better, regulations are stronger and buyers have more information. Not surprisingly, consumers are drawn to cars with the latest safety features.
Yet these factors alone do not tell the whole story. History shows that litigation and the civil justice system have served as the most consistent and powerful forces in heightening safety standards, revealing previously concealed defects and regulatory weaknesses and deterring manufacturers from cutting corners on safety for the goal of greater profits.