U.S. Leads Developed Countries in Car Crash Fatalities

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 countries.

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 [1]. 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 [2].

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 [4].

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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[1] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6526e1.htm?s_cid=mm6526e1_w

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/07/health/us-highest-crash-death-rate/

[4] https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/407660