According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
the United States has the highest car crash death rate among other high-income
A CDC report revealed that the United States leads the way in total number
of fatal car crashes among other developed, high-income countries like
Canada and Germany. Just how bad is the problem? According to the CDC, more than 32,000 people
die on U.S. roads every year, averaging out to 90 traffic fatalities every day.
The U.S. still leads the way despite a 31% overall reduction in traffic
fatalities since 2000. Despite improvements, we are still pacing behind
the 19 other countries evaluated in the CDC’s report. Those other
19 countries declined an average 56% during the same period that the U.S.
declined by 31%.
Countries that have seen the greatest improvements in traffic fatality
rates are Spain (which has dropped 75.1%) and Denmark (dropped 63.5%).
What if the U.S. was keeping pace with other developed countries in terms
of road safety? The CDC figured that, had our nation reduced traffic fatalities
by 56% (the average of other countries studied), over the course of 13
years, 18,000 lives could have been saved.
The CDC didn’t just look at overall fatalities, but also at major
contributing factors such as alcohol impairment and seatbelt use. The
U.S. also performed poorly in these areas. Our nation is number one in
crash deaths per 1000,000 people, the second highest in drunk driving
deaths, and the third worst in terms of seatbelt usage.
How are countries like Denmark and Spain reducing their traffic deaths
so drastically? Some contribute it to developments in road safety legislation,
such as lowering the maximum blood alcohol level to .05%, increased fines
for speeding, and more aggressive seatbelt requirements.
The prevalence of bicycle commuting and public transportation are also
higher in developed European countries as opposed to the U.S. According
to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, cycling accounts for about 17% of all
trips in Denmark and 20% of all commuter trips. Portland, Oregon seems to be embracing the Danish mentality on bicycle
commuting, which may help decrease the overall number of traffic fatalities
in the city. For example, 7.2% of Portland commuters travel by bicycle,
the highest percentage of bike commuters in a large American city.
The City of Portland has also made other accommodations to ensure that
the city’s commuters stay safe on the roads. For example, 17 miles
of bikeways are physically separated from automobile lanes, 19 intersections
have bicycle-specific traffic signals, and 27 bicycle boxes have been
installed at 19 intersections to improve motorists’ visibility of bikers.
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