We were discussing the reasons for this drop, and it occurred to me that over the very long term, improved medical care was quite possibly a big reason why we hadn't quintupled the number of automotive related deaths when we quintupled the number of car (in 1949 we only had 17% of the cars we have now, and drove 14% of the miles). Simply put, an accident that would prove fatal in 1949 quite likely would not be fatal today, even with the same injuries. There are more hospitals, more first responders, and more technology available once you get to the hospital.
This shift in medicine comes up fairly frequently in a variety of statistics that get thrown out there. It is always worth noting that sometimes improving some metrics will naturally make others worse.
For example, a recent study showed that life expectancy for the average person worldwide is going up, but that some of those gains in life expectancy are offset by increased years of disability. Now in some cases, those two things are related....if we can treat disabling condition but not cure it, your life expectancy will go up even as your years living disable go up.
Another example is the number of disabled veterans we have coming back from the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. More vets are returning with physical and mental disabilities, in part because the injuries they sustained would have been lethal in previous generations.
I'm curious if improved health care has had a long term effect on gun deaths. It strikes me that since most of them are suicides, it is likely advances in medical technology may not help as much, as they would probably maintain a fairly constant level of fatality from the get go.
While we're on the topic of gun fatalities, Bloomberg News put together a chart that projected that gun fatalities will surpass automotive deaths by 2015.
From the looks of this chart, they didn't base their trends on anything prior to 2008. I'm somehow doubting this is really going to play out the way they claim, especially since 2012 showed an increase.
Someone get Nate Silver on this.