Since 2005, the nation has experienced a 25-percent decline in highway deaths. While several factors contributed to the decline, such as increased law enforcement, it could be argued that the most significant reason is the improved safety of cars on the road.

From upgrading the number of airbags, to using the latest in safety technology, car manufacturers have learned to shield drivers and passengers from the worst-case scenarios of some crashes.

"There's no question that people are walking away from crashes today, who wouldn't have ten or 15 years ago," said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "Vehicles today are built to crash in a way that protects people inside the vehicle."

Crush zones in the front of vehicles are intended to dissipate crash energy, while strong safety cages keep the area of the car closest to passengers intact.


Rader added, "Thanks to crash testing done by the government and by the insurance industry, vehicles are much safer today, and that's part of the reason we're seeing such a drop in traffic fatalities."

Rader said the most recent technology being added to vehicles is aimed at preventing crashes altogether, such as back-up cameras and lane departure warnings.

"A lot of this technology starts in luxury cars, but then begins to make its way into more mainstream family cars," Rader continued. He predicted these features will be more commonplace in the future, and they won't be an added cost for car buyers.

The technology to watch for, according to Rader, is forward collision warning systems with automatic braking. He said he expects the systems to become more mainstream.

Research showed Volvo's City Safety system played a part in reducing crashes. The system automatically brakes the vehicle in low-speed traffic if the driver doesn't react fast enough to something or someone in the road ahead.

While safety features have grown exponentially over the recent years, they may not pose their maximum benefits any time soon. Cars have been built to last longer, so owners are holding on to them for longer periods of time. As owners get rid of their cars from the earlier years of the millennium, safer vehicles will eventually become a larger part of the on-the-road fleet.

The nationwide decline in highway deaths did not carry over into the Garden State last year. In 2011, 628 people died as a result of motor vehicle crashes in New Jersey. In 2010, that number was 556.

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