In the latest edition of what is undoubtedly the most comprehensive international summary of global road safety each year, the mission statement for the USA is: ‘Dedicated to achieving the highest standards of excellence in motor vehicle safety and reducing deaths, injuries and economic losses resulting from motor vehicle crashes.’ However, as the following figures and references will show, this stated goal may be true regarding the intent but actual U.S. outcomes over recent decades have been a very long way indeed from any “highest standards of excellence.”
The problem is that while the USA has performed very poorly indeed when compared to the other developed nations of the world, and even to some less-developed nations, official bodies here in America repeatedly post flowery or misleading comments that make it appear as though all in the garden is rosy and that there is no problem, despite unacceptably high rates of death.
What follows is therefore a partial summary of America’s performance, according to the latest report (2018) which, due to the time needed for collation and interpretation, refers primarily to 2016 data.
Annual Deaths, Measured Against Distance Travelled
First of all, the USA’s current traffic safety goal is to get down to “1.02 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled [VMT], in 2019.” However, as the US is the only country to use the 100m VMT metric, this needs to be converted to the international norm of deaths per 1 billion vehicle kilometres travelled, and that figure is 6.34. This gives the USA the data-years of 2017, 2018 and 2019 in which to achieve a 13.2% reduction from the most recent (i.e. 2016) rate of 7.3.
If achieved, this would almost certainly not equate to a similar-percentage cut in America’s excessively high annual number of road deaths unless, during that same time period and by coincidence, there were to be a major financial crisis or other disaster which prevented any increase in the collective total mileage of America’s fleet of vehicles.
To put this in perspective, the report shows that, from 2010 through 2016, 29 countries achieved reductions in their overall number of annual road deaths — five of them being reductions of between 30-40 percent. One country had no change, and seven countries had lower increases in annual deaths than the USA. In this context, the USA was 38th out of 40 countries, with a very regrettable rise of 13.5 percent in annual road deaths.
Excerpt: “Travel risk measured by distance travelled has decreased since 2010. The one exception [is] the United States…”
Annual Deaths Measured Against Population (“per capita”)
Excerpt: “Four countries recorded fewer than three fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants in 2016: Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In 2010, only two countries had achieved this level. In 2000, the lowest rate of traffic-related mortality among IRTAD countries had been 6.1 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants in the United Kingdom. Thirteen countries formed a group of relatively well-performing countries with mortality rates of five or less – a rate that not a single country had achieved in 2000. The United States stands out with a relatively high traffic mortality rate of 11.6 in 2016…”
The “deaths per 100,000 inhabitants” is known as the per capita rate. In this, the USA is in 33rd place in the table, with a rate — as shown above — of 11.6, from four to almost six times greater than the rate in the leading four nations, and that is an astonishing difference for such a great (and wealthy!) nation to be so far behind.
As for year-on-year progress in reducing mortality rates from 1990 through 2016, the USA is still not down to the rates that either the UK or Sweden had achieved in 1990.
Out of the 31 countries in the table depicting this topic, all except Chile have achieved current per capita rates that are lower than the 11.6 for the USA and at least 27 have achieved larger — often dramatically larger — reductions than the US. Is this alone not cause for very serious concern?
Vehicle Safety Standards — Car Occupants Killed
Excerpt: “Since 2010, the number of car occupants killed in crashes has decreased in all countries except Chile (+25%) and the United States (+7%).”
In the relevant table, the USA and Chile are 29th and 30th out of 30 countries. Two countries (Switzerland and Norway) achieved reduction exceeding 40 percent and a further 12 countries had reductions of 20-39 percent.
The irony of America’s increase of seven percent in car occupant deaths is that for several years US officials have been keen to claim that higher vehicle safety standards are largely responsible for alleged improvements in the country’s traffic safety, but this result would appear to suggest otherwise.
Pedestrian Deaths, 2010-2016
The relevant table shows that 22 of the 30 countries listed enjoyed reductions of up to 37.5% in pedestrian deaths over the seven years in question. The remaining eight countries had increases and the worst of these was the USA, where pedestrian deaths were up by a stunning 39.2%.
Deaths of Motorcyclists and Other Riders of Powered-Two-Wheelers [P2W], 2010-2016
In this table 29 countries are listed, 20 of which achieved reductions in the number of riders/passengers killed. The other nine countries had increases in the number of such deaths, and in 27th place, with an increase of 17 percent, was the USA.
Bicyclist Deaths, 2010-2016
There are 28 countries listed in the relevant table, of which 15 achieved reductions in the relevant category of deaths. The remaining 13 countries experienced increases, and the USA was in 27th position with an increase of 34.8%.
The fact that the USA lags behind Europe in terms of traffic safety does get mentioned in America from time to time, but to be blunt it seems to be one of those things that results in far too little action.
Back in 2010, “Indiana University’s Clinton Oster… [was] the chairman of a committee convened by the National Research Council to examine why traffic fatalities are going down faster in Europe than they are in this country. The bottom line is fairly clear.
“‘It’s not that they have technologies that we don’t have; it’s that they use them more extensively and they manage their highway safety programs more [intensely] and better than we do,’ [said] Oster.” [Read the article]
In 2014, a paper by Luoma and Sivak asked: Why is road safety in the U.S. not on par with Sweden, the U.K., and the Netherlands? Lessons to be learned. To be fair, this report highlighted five key areas in which the USA could improve and quite a lot does appear to have been done in this respect.
In the July 2016 edition of Vital Signs, the CDC pointedly asked ‘Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths – How is the US doing?’ And once again, the same key elements identified by Luoma and Sivak are mentioned, which is of course a good thing.
This all does beg the question, though: What about America’s many other traffic safety weaknesses? It is all well and good putting focus on the most egregious problems but by the same token it appears to be madness to then completely ignore other problem areas that certainly could be undergoing significant improvements. One such issue is the frankly abysmal level of basic driver training standards in the USA, something that, to this day, is still exacerbated by an unacceptably low standard of information for student drivers, in the various state drivers manuals.
With this in mind, that all drivers in the USA have frankly always had inadequate and even, on occasions, dangerous information given to them as “official advice,” Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA] uniquely can provide your employees with a much higher level blend of evidence-based and best-practise safe driving information and techniques, both at defensive- and advanced-driver levels. Protect your people’s lives — protect your business profits!
See the full ITF Road Safety Annual Report 2018.
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