Early in the morning, you run through a mental checklist of any last minute items to bring with you – keys, snacks, water, games – and shuffle your luggage and your family into the car to embark on roadtrip.
But a wide range of factors – unfamiliar roads, distractions inside the car, and long hours of fatigue-inducing driving – can have a hand in turning a pleasant vacation into a dangerous journey resulting in a car accident.
The summer months are some of the busiest on America’s highways, but the packed roadways and increased traffic also create more dangerous driving conditions, and increase the likelihood of car accidents. Each year, more than 30,000 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents, and federal statistics show that traffic tends to spike during the summer months.
“As the economy has improved and gas prices have fallen, more Americans are driving more miles,” said Dr. Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, upon releasing preliminary data on traffic deaths last month. “But that only explains part of the increase. Ninety-four percent of crashes can be tied back to a human choice or error, so we know we need to focus our efforts on improving human behavior while promoting vehicle technology that not only protects people in crashes, but helps prevent crashes in the first place.”
Researchers, engineers, and policymakers have been trying to improve driving safety conditions for decades, and it shows – the total number of annual fatal accidents has decreased from more than 50,000 in 1980 to under 33,000 in 2014.
Currently, some within the push to improve safety conditions have turned their attention to vehicle technologies – such as automatic emergency braking systems – that could help prevent crashes from happening in the first place. At the same time, engineers and state and federal agencies continue to look to improve highway infrastructure that can lessen the impact of crashes that do occur.
Before scientists became interested in tinkering with the safety features of cars and roadways, one man – Dr. John Stapp – set out to discover the actual limits of acceleration and deceleration on the human body itself. Many crucial elements of vehicle safety can be traced back to Stapp’s contributions.
Because Stapp, an Air Force medical researcher, was conducting his work in the 1940s and 1950s, long before the first crash test dummies were created, he took matters into his own hands and became the first human crash test dummy.