Driving Safety, in Fits and Starts - Graphic - NYTimes.com
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Plotting the two most important variables against each other — miles traveled versus deaths per 100,000 population — yields a pattern that looks like a plateau followed by a steep drop. It evokes the theory of punctuated equilibrium, proposed by the paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, which suggests that instead of continuous gradual evolution, change occurs abruptly after periods of virtual standstill.
“You see fatalities drop after a breakthrough in new technologies or behaviors, and then plateau until the next one,” said David L. Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “It takes time for new safety technologies to work their way into the whole fleet of cars on the road.”