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Safety gadgets cut road fatalities

November 22, 2010
For the first time since government tracking began in 1966, the traffic fatality rate dropped below 1.5 deaths per 100 million miles traveled on U.S. roads, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported this month. Even as more people drove more miles, the number of people killed in car accidents dropped by 342, to 42,643 in 2003. The progress comes at a time of consumer ambivalence, with many drivers mindful of safety features but not eager to pay more money for them. The NHTSA credits the drop in fatalities to greater use of seat belts, fewer drunken drivers and improved car designs-including the growing use of air bags and "crumple zones." Every state but New Hampshire requires seat belt use. Woe to the automaker that develops a bad safety rap; there's no faster way to turn buyers away in droves, said Wes Brown of the automotive market research firm, Iceology. Car buyers often are reluctant to pay extra for safety features, said Brown. But they want those features included, and they rank safety in surveys as "very important." Studies show consumers take safety for granted, rather than being uninterested.