Coming from the UK to North America I've been able to witness a hugely different automotive culture with an external perspective and I think I can see one of the directions where its going wrong.
It seems to me that drivers just don't have enough to keep them safe. It sounds like an odd statement but I think it may be true that too much is done for drivers and too little is required of them to keep focused on the task in hand, namely conducting a couple of tonnes of metal in a safe and orderly fashion.
Consider these differences:
Gears. Over here the vast majority of drivers have automatic cars, in Europe the opposite is the case. Even younger drivers for whom the advantage of technology could be readily available shun the notion of having an automated system control the gearing of their vehicle.
Street furniture: Practically every junction that I cross, over here, is controlled in some way. Either by lights or a stop sign, including the ridiculous contruct that is the All Way Stop Sign. Nowhere does there seem to be a requirement for an act of judgement. Conversely in the UK, such entities as Give Way signs, roundabouts or even junctions devoid of any paint or signs at all. Then there are the speed limit signs. It seems that just about every road here (at least in the city) has a posted speed limit. In Europe you would expect, as a road user, only to see a sign when there is a change in designation. Occasionally, where it might be beneficial reiterations are posted.
Street design: Sure in the UK there are lanes that require the road users to exit the current road or take a specific course of action. However, the prevalance of exit lanes and signs stating you can only turn from a specific lane actually astounds me. I'm just not used to it. Traffic control measures seem to be rather unimaginative, uniform and boring. No creativity seems to be employed.
So there you are, driving along, not questioning how the car is working and what you want to make it do up ahead. One pedal to go, one pedal to stop. You're told what to do, how and where to do it and rarely, if ever, are you asked to think about what would be the best course of action to achieve your objective/destination. No one ponders if they are in the best gear for the speed and obstacles ahead. No one queries where the best place for them in the road is. Driving becomes homogenised, dull and routinely stripped of any character at all. It comes as no surprise to me then that drivers seek out distractions and imagine they can carry out phone conversations, eating, comsmetics and any number of other tasks that more of their European counterparts would leave until outside of managing a potentially deadly machine.
I won't claim that motorists in Europe are perfect and all attentive, but they are far more influenced to be so and I think that, as a model, driving there is safer for cyclists than it is here.