International Road Safety Annual Report 2018 – The USA Does Very Badly Again

In the latest edition of what is undoubtedly the most comprehensive international summary of global road safety statistics 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.”

Photograph of the scene of a fatal road crash in the USA.
A fatal road traffic crash (not “accident”) which I encountered by chance during my frequent travel to conduct safe / defensive / advanced driving courses throughout the USA. (Copyright image, 2012.)

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.

Photograph of a roadside memorial at an off-ramp
Roadside memorial at an off-ramp from I-495 in Massachusetts.   (Copyright image, 2017.)

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…”

Two roadside memorials from two separate crashes at one location on I-495 in Massachusetts.
Two roadside memorials from two separate crashes at one location on I-495 in Massachusetts.   The top memorial is to a state trooper. (Copyright image, 2017.)
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?

Photograph of two roadside memorials, on opposite sides of a rural road, and from two separate crashes.
Not one but two memorials, for two separate crashes on either side of this road at this one location in Illinois.   Photo: Copyright 2012.
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%.

Photo of two people on a motor scooter in Florida, quite legally but very inadvisably without crash helmets.
Two people on a motor scooter in Florida, quite legally but very inadvisably without crash helmets. (Copyright image, 2012.)
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%.

A warning sign in terrible condition, for 'traffic lights ahead'.
Whether one is talking just about this sign in atrocious condition (but still in use), or about the state of road safety in the USA, it is extremely important that the “stop light” gets urgent and intensive improvements.  (Copyright image, 2011.)

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.


As always, please be aware that this website is registered with the United States Copyright Office and that punitive legal action for damages may be taken against anyone who breaches our copyright. This, however, does not stop you from posting links to any of our pages, and you are welcome to do so.

Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at:

5 thoughts on “International Road Safety Annual Report 2018 – The USA Does Very Badly Again”

  1. In the early 1970’s USA stood out with the lowest fatality rate of all OECD countries – the rate equalled about 55% of the OESD median. The principal reason for this was the huge expenditure in the 1950’s and 1960’s on the divided National Highway System which commenced in earnest with the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. By 1980 Norway and Sweden had lower fatality rates than the USA. And in 2004 the US rate became worse then the OECD. In 2014-2016 the US rate has been around 43% greater than the OECD median. Why? The reduction in expenditure on new divided highways; The number of states where failure to wear a seatbelt is not a primary offence; the number of states that do not require helmets to be worn by motorcyclists and/or scooter riders; etc

    1. John, you write: “By 1980 Norway and Sweden had lower fatality rates than the USA.

      That, however, is simply not the case. I have checked the figures and in 1980, Australia, the Czechs, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland all had lower per capita rates than the USA, which at that time was in 21st position out of the 28 countries listed by IRTAD.

      Incidentally, much of the ‘the divided National Highway System,’ to which you give much credit for cutting U.S. road death rates from the 1960s onwards, in many states has only in the last five-or-so years finished getting central/median guardrails on narrower medians and has thus only really started to become really safe by preventing crossover collisions.

  2. Good Resource Group. Once I got to New Mexico I was so frustrated with Fatality roadway rate day today, I felt that these drivers had no respect for human life, Being a Resident of The Eastcoast surrounding Washington., D.C. Maryland and VA. I had seen real bad accidents a lot offender, Bender, but nowhere near the pedestrian fatalities, And as I look distractive driving plays a major role, Child car death is up DWI ‘s seem to lead in the roadway deaths, Even so, I’ve made no significant progress with introducing new legislation limited resources, Organization like MADD mothers against drunk driving,is out there, I also believe current legislation in NM play a major roll in these incidents, making law enforcement limited in The process of LAW,I feel A National Safety Permit Program might HELP, Legislation that would cause all state to inner -react on a Nation basis,Driver will naturally cross state lines, which will often alter The latter of Law, where stiff penalties are required, any vehicle that is involved in a life taking experience should carry should be deemed Homicide if not related to weather conditions, Medical condition, That the point of these type incident A vehicle becomes a lethal weapon, as if a gunshot was fired to end a life most states have strong DWI laws but here in NM there is a revolving dood of justice, That The NSSP advocates against The data base approach any driver in america that submits to road test right to operate a motor vehicle,Mr. Johnson, we have not received your semi or annually updated safety report naturally this will have an effect on the vehicle, registration Tag Insurance, The amount of DWI or Safety events one can have on his\her’s driving record to be eligible as a Legal Drive across America or entering The International scene.,

Leave a Reply to EddieWren Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.