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Is Car Insurance Making The Roads More Dangerous?

October 21st 2019

(Statistical reference link):

“In 2018, an estimated 40,000 people (*in the US) lost their lives due to car crashes - a 1% decline from 2017 (40,231 deaths) and 2016 (40,327 deaths). About 4.5 million people were seriously injured in car crashes last year - also a 1% decrease over 2017.”

(Statistical reference link):

“Unintentional injuries accounted for 5.4 percent of all US deaths last year, while motor vehicle crashes accounted for 23.9 percent of those deaths.

*A little over 1%.

It’s no secret that people die on the road. In fact, growing up in the state of Michigan auto-fatalities caused more serious injuries… than almost anything else, where I grew up. Which is to say, that it didn’t take many people dying in my hometown for me to understand that there are dangers on the road (*and to become a more cautious driver myself).

Nevertheless, the topic of today’s article is not IF the roads are safe… but HOW safe? And do things like, “auto-insurance,” make our roads safer? Or does auto-insurance actually make driving more dangerous?

And to answer those questions… I am going to be pulling out some statistics from the internet for today’s article and more precisely, I am going to be pulling out some statistics and then formulating my argument. And my argument is that I believe, “auto insurance,” is essentially making America’s roads LESS SAFE… or more dangerous, depending upon your point of view.

But to start… let’s analyze a couple of historical reference points which describe, “how safe America’s roads are today, versus how safe the roads were before auto insurance mandates.” And in order to assess, “road safety,” I used the, “auto-accident fatalities statistic,” however, the debate over, “mandated auto insurance,” started all the way back in 1927… which makes traffic data before the mandated auto insurance of 1927… difficult to find or analyze. Regardless, it’s unlikely that auto insurance mandates were even enforced back then, henceforth, why highway safety before 1927 is difficult to analyze and compare because it was so long ago.

Nevertheless, states like California… have had auto insurance mandates that were not heavily enforced until 1984… which means that while I was unable to find a lot of data comparing the safety of our roads before the creation of auto insurance in 1927, there is some data to compare safety records before auto insurance was enforced… because most states hadn’t even begun enforcing auto insurance mandates until closer to 1980 and even as late as 1984.

So, for example; California began enforcing proof of auto insurance during traffic stops in 1984 and most other states began enforcing, “proof of auto insurance,” between 1965 and 1975, according to Wikipedia. So for today’s article I find that this time period is better used to assess, “traffic safety,” both before and after, auto insurance mandates… so I’ve used the year 1975 to represent, “before auto insurance mandates,” although this is not an exact cut-off, for when auto insurance mandates took affect. Meaning, to be fair, despite not all 50 states enforcing auto insurance mandates in 1974, it seems that a majority of the states had in fact began enforcing them, in 1974… or right around this time. So I chose the year 1975 to compare, “the before and after,” of traffic safety statistics, in this case… auto fatalities, which represents, “road safety,” for this article.

So.. to reiterate: the assumption here is that MOST states started enforcing auto insurance mandates around the year 1975, which is the year that I’m using to compare traffic safety statistics, “for before and after,” auto insurance was enforced on the roads, despite not being a cut and dry, reference point.

But here it goes;

Until 1956, when the New York legislature passed their compulsory insurance law, Massachusetts was the only state in the U.S. that required drivers to get insurance before registration. North Carolina followed suit in 1957 and then in the 1960’s and 1970’s numerous other states passed similar compulsory insurance laws. Google statistics.

And my hypothesis going into this… was that; people grow complacent because of their auto insurance and then they typically begin to expect their auto-insurance provider to repair their vehicle (if and when it’s damaged) and then because of that insurance… there’s less liability on the driver today, which is in turn making driver’s less careful and more careless behind the wheel… IE leading to car insurance actually making the roads more dangerous!

But to reiterate, my hypothesis is that drivers are becoming overly reliant on auto insurance and have become naive to the dangers of the road, because of this reliance on auto insurance! And this, “new found carelessness,” due to a reliance on the insurance industry, I also believe is now making our roads MORE DANGEROUS… than if we had never had auto insurance at all!

However, statistically this is a difficult point to make… and to be honest, the statistics don’t support this hypothesis because the data is both; difficult to compare but also, in some cases almost impossible to find. However, there is some data to support this theory and if most states adopted mandatory auto insurance… around the year 1975, then in the 2 decades since that legislation took effect, auto fatalities sharply declined which does signal a positive effect from the insurance industry at the very onset of auto insurance mandates (from 1975 to 1990).

But let’s break down the numbers….

And again… remember the difficulty here is;

1) Calculating the statistical safety of the roads, before insurance was mandated.


2) Pinpointing, “car insurance itself,” as the main culprit in determining why there is a deviation in traffic fatality statistics… as opposed to things like air-bags, which were invented in 1952 and became common by the 1980’s, as well.

But basically, let’s examine auto fatalities before 1975 vs after 1975 (when most auto insurance mandates took effect) and see if there’s a change in the auto fatalities, which in essence represents the, “safety,” of America’s roads. Then after that, let’s call this statistic, “a rough estimate of our road’s safety, before and after mandated auto insurance.” *And again, it’s not a perfect statistical analysis but let’s crunch some numbers.

( (

Year- Deaths- (VMT) Vehicle miles traveled (billions)- Fatalities per 100 million VMT- Population- Fatalities per 100,000 population- Change in per capita fatalities from previous year

1960 - 36,399 - 718 - 5.06 - 180,671,158 - 20.15 - (-1.1%)
1970 - 52,627 - 1,109 - 4.74 - 205,052,174 - 25.67 - (-2.9%)
1980 - 51,091 - 1,527 - 3.35 - 227,224,681 - 22.48 - (-1.0%)
1990 - 44,599 - 2,144 - 2.08 - 249,464,396 - 17.88 - (-3.2%)
2000 - 41,945 - 2,747 - 1.53 - 282,216,952 - 14.86 - (-2.9%)
2010 - 32,999 - 2,967 - 1.11 - 309,326,000 - 10.67 - (-3.5%)

US Population…… in 1960 = 186,720,571

1960 - Auto fatalities / Total US population = 36,399 / 180,671,158

= 0.000201%

/ US Population…… in 1970 = 209,513,341

1970 - Auto fatalities / Total US population = 52,627 / 205,052,174

= 0.000256%

/ US Population…… in 1980 = 229,476,354

1980 Auto fatalities / Total US population = 51,091 / 227,224,681

= 0.0002248%

/ US Population…… in 1990 = 252,120,309

1990 - Auto fatalities / Total US population = 44,599 / 249,464,396

= 0.0001787%

/ US Population…… in 2000 = 282,216,952

2000 Auto fatalities / Total US population = 41,945 / 282,216,952

= 0.000148%

/ US Population…… in 2010 = 309,326,000

2010 Auto fatalities / Total US population = 32,999 / 309,326,000

= .0001066%

But what jumps out to me is that the three websites I used (for statistical referencing) had different population totals… which already gives you some level of, “error,” to take into account, when analyzing these statistics. *I used the first population total for calculating the % of auto fatalities vs total population statistic.

But also;

**The death rate from automobile accidents… steadily rises from 1905 to 1940.**

The, “percentage of fatalities vs US population as a whole,” statistic, declines steadily from the early 1970’s forward, although, that could also be attributed to population growth, seeing as the number of fatalities stayed relatively stagnant. Total fatalities from auto accidents, ranges from 40k to 50k deaths, in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, yet hovers to around 30k annual auto fatalities today, which isn’t a huge deviation over a 50 year span. Basically, this represents a meager 10-20k death difference, from the 1940’s to the 1990’s, representing very little change in auto-safety, over a 50 year span.

The number of fatalities per capita, steadily rises until the 1970’s and then barely declines over the following 10 years, into 1980, when the number of auto deaths starts to slowly trickle down, creating safer transit and, “safer roads,” throughout the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s.

The auto fatalities however, barely decline from 2000-2001, signalling a stall in auto-safety measures.

The 1980’s and 2000’s see the most drastic decline in auto fatalities. The decline in auto fatalities during the 1980’s I assume is most likely due to mandated insurance policies, at that time. However, this down tick in auto fatalities during the 1980’s could also be attributed to other factors…. including the enforcement of drunk driving legislation and improvements to automobile safety, IE air bags.

I believe that the down-turn in auto fatalities during the 1980’s is most likely due to the INITIAL impacts of legalized auto insurance mandates, ALTERNATIVELY, HOWEVER, I also believe that the decline in auto fatalities during the 2000’s decade is more likely due to the increased vehicle safety standards of that time. Whereby, I find that auto insurance mandates in the 1980’s had an effect on fatalities, in essence meaning that policy over road safety, DUI and things of that nature, created a downturn in fatalities. Yet, during the 2000’s, I believe this downturn in fatalities…. is more attributed to increased vehicle safety standards.

In 1974, the death rate due to automobile accidents goes down 17%… after previously rising for 5 straight years before that, as well as throughout most of the early 1900’s. That’s why I chose 1975 as a good, “before and after,” cutoff, for assessing fatalities both before and after, “the auto insurance mandates took effect,” which I assume represents that 17% decline in fatalities, in 1975.

So, in conclusion, in spite of these statistics… I’d now like to mention that I still believe auto insurance mandates are making American roads LESS SAFE, however the numbers are not entirely pointing in that direction!

Whereby, auto fatalities remained fairly stagnant from 1950 to 2010… in sum…. which means that there were only 30k deaths, in deviation from 1970 to 2010 and the totals of 33,000 deaths in 2010… and then 32,000 deaths in 1950 signal that, “mandated auto insurance vs non auto mandated auto insurance,” could be overlooked as a cause of safety concern but not conclusively.

Meaning that while auto insurance mandates probably initially contributed to a decline in auto related deaths, during the 1980’s, I now believe that auto insurance mandates are INCREASING the death toll and the numbers do in fact signal that while these mandates initially had an effect, the caution of them seemingly “wore off” after 30 year, leading the fatalities to once again reach the same levels as before 1950! And furthermore, in conclusion I also believe that auto insurance mandates today… are making drivers feel LESS SAFE and LESS LIABLE for damages that they might incur/inflict and that this has had an effect on these fatalities. So, in conclusion I believe that auto insurance mandates… are now making American roads LESS SAFE and modern drivers more careless, although the numbers can be argued both ways!

-William Larsen

*Founded in 2011*
-PDX Larsen LLC-

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