An article in the Dallas Morning News quotes from a study done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety stating that safety improvements such as airbags have made vehicles safer, but that driver behavior has not significantly improved in recent years.
In other words, we’re still speeding and driving drunk or reckless, but our improved vehicles are protecting us from fatal injuries more than in past years. One reason, not stated in the study, for the improved safety features is lawsuits brought by product liability lawyers against auto manufacturers. Without that financial threat, manufacturers would not have voluntarily made these safety improvements.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does say that seat belt use is steadily increasing:
Year and % using seat belts
1994 —– 58%
2004 —– 80%
2005 —– 82%