US Lags In Reducing Auto Fatalities

Dramatic declines in traffic fatalities in the U.S. over the last several years are likely due to a sour economy.


JOAN LOWY, Associated Press | | Tuesday, November 16, 2010

WASHINGTON - The United States is lagging behind nearly every other high-income country in reducing annual traffic fatalities, said a report released Tuesday by a federal research panel.

There's some good news: U.S. traffic fatalities fell 9.7 percent in 2009 to 33,808, the lowest number since 1950. In 2008, an estimated 37,423 people died on the highways, a decline of 9.3 percent from the previous year.

But dramatic declines in traffic fatalities in the U.S. over the last several years are likely due to a sour economy in which people drive less, rather than lasting changes in behavior, the report suggests. As the economy improves, researchers said, fatalities are likely to rebound.

"The experience of the past three years is not grounds for concluding that sustainable progress has been made on traffic safety," the report said.

In the 1970s, the U.S. fatality rate was the lowest in the world. But because safety efforts have improved more slowly in the United States than elsewhere, most high-income countries have now matched or gone below the U.S. rate, said the report by the Transportation Research Board.

Countries with comparable living standards where fatality rates per mile of travel were substantially higher than in the United States 15 years ago are now below the U.S. rate, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway, France and the United Kingdom.

"The United States can no longer claim to rank highly in road safety by world standards," the report said.

From 1995 to 2009, fatalities dropped 52 percent in France, 38 percent in the United Kingdom, 25 percent in Australia, and 50 percent in 15 high-income countries for which long-term fatality and traffic data are available, the report said. But they dropped only 19 percent in the U.S.

The dramatic declines in fatalities in other nations have been achieved in part through the kinds of programs that have sometimes generated opposition in the U.S: speed cameras and speed measuring devices, sobriety checkpoints and mandatory motorcycle helmets, for example.

If such programs were widely adopted in the U.S., it's probable that thousands of lives could be saved each year, the report said.

Researchers estimated that nationwide, sustained and frequent use of checkpoints to detect drunk drivers could save 1,500 to 3,000 lives annually. Systematic speed control programs applied nationwide could save another 1,000 to 2,000 lives, the report said.

If every state required all motorcyclists wear helmets, about 450 deaths a year could be avoided, the report said. Increasing the rate of seat belt use just 5 percent _ from the present 85 percent to 90 percent - would save about 1,200 lives.

"Where is the public outcry against these preventable deaths?" said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman.

"Americans should strive for zero fatalities on the road. We should be leading, rather than following the international community when it comes to roadway design and safety measures," Hersman said. "But it is a sad fact that the U.S. is in their rear view mirror and falling further behind the rest of the world when it comes to highway safety."

Clinton Oster, an environment and public policy professor at the University of Indiana-Bloomington and chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said there was no "silver bullet" program that stood out.

Rather, transportation safety authorities in other countries that have been successful at reducing fatalities by taking a different overall approach, with an emphasis on demonstrating and documenting programs that work and then aggressively making their case for those programs with political leaders and the public, he said.

"I think we need to be much more systematic in developing clear goals, measuring results and making that information public," Oster said. Other countries "work very hard to demonstrate these techniques actually do save lives."



Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: News, auto accident

What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Buyer's Guide Featured Companies

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS

Get JEMS in Your Inbox


Fire EMS Blogs

Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts


EMS Airway Clinic

Mechanical CPR is Producing Resuscitation Results Beyond Expectations

Discover why clinical studies are finding mechanical CPR just as effective as optimally-performed CPR.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

New Technology Helps Missouri Ambulances

Strategic GPS tracking helps in Springfield.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Profile: Hospital Wing Air Ambulance

Take a look inside this Memphis service.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

New Monitors for Wyoming EMS

Grant helps Torrington EMS get new equipment.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

London Medics Increasingly Attacked

One medic describes her violent confrontation.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Violence, Arson in Ferguson

Crowds in Ferguson and elsewhere react to decision.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

California Bus Rollover

One killed and dozens injured.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Buffalo Residents Dig Out and Prepare for Flooding

Flooding expected as heavy snow melts.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

VividTrac offered by Vivid Medical - EMS Today 2013

VividTrac, affordable high performance video intubation device.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

LMA MAD Nasal™

Needle-free intranasal drug delivery.
Watch It >

More Product Videos >