In July 2016 — with a very welcome degree of frankness and honesty that I have not seen from other top-level road safety bodies in the USA — the Center for Disease Control [CDC] wrote: “…more than 32,000 people are killed and 2 million are injured each year from motor vehicle crashes. In 2013, the US crash death rate was more than twice the average of other high-income countries… Motor vehicle crash deaths in the US are still too high. There were more than 32,000 crash deaths in the US in 2013…” [Source]
However, since the figure of 32,719 deaths for 2013 became known, the number of road deaths has catapulted upwards and the National Safety Council [NSC] now estimates that 40,200 people were killed on America’s roads in 2016, which will represent a frankly catastrophic, 23 percent increase in just three years.
Despite the CDC’s refreshing frankness, however, there was still one aspect of their associated document which, from any layman reader’s perspective, would appear to significantly play-down the scale of the situation, and this is implied in the graphic shown below.
One week ago, on July 10, 2017, the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] published their periodic “Safety Compass” blog. The post in question was called “Best Days of Their Lives” and is very good, in relation to the safety of young drivers.
Some people think it is wrong to make the following comparison so I will apologize now to anyone who is offended, but the ongoing situation is so pointless and so crucial to the well-being of Americans that I hope you will forgive me for doing so:
“September 11, 2017, will be the 16th anniversary of the evil attacks on four planes, the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, but did you know that for every single person killed on that truly awful day, over 200 people have since been killed on America’s roads? Yes, a total of almost two-thirds of a million people slaughtered in U.S. highway crashes, plus around 40 million injured, in just 16 years. And almost all Americans, including supposedly responsible politicians, completely ignore this hideous and unnecessary travesty because what?” Eddie Wren, Advanced Drivers of North America, Inc. — July 13, 2017.
Motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities continued their steady six-year rise in Arizona in 2016, according to the most recent data from the state’s Department of Transportation.
At a time when the state’s population grew by an average 1.4 percent a year, the number of vehicle crashes rose an average 2.8 percent a year between 2011 and 2016, while injuries rose 1.8 percent a year and fatalities increased by 4.1 percent per year, according to the DOT’s Annual Crash Facts Report released last month.
The cost of those crashes mounted in the billions each year, although a recent change in how the state measures those numbers makes a direct year-to-year comparison difficult.
Experts point to several possible reasons for the rise in crashes, ranging from lax state laws on highway safety to bad drivers….
One key thing that has not been mentioned in the “reasons for the rise in crashes” is the inevitable involvement of the end of the financial recession. It is a proven fact that when a recession strikes, the overall mileage driven in vehicles decreases and the numbers of crashes and deaths fall. And when a recession ends, the opposite occurs.
It is ironic that as road deaths fell during the early part of the ‘2008’ recession all sorts of departments were claiming the credit for the significant drop in crashes and deaths, but now that the numbers are increasing once again, nobody wants to take the responsibility anymore!
While a few of the figures in the ‘Change 1975-2015’ column, above, may appear to be good, they must be viewed in the context that the USA, as a country, performs very poorly in highway safety by comparison with the vast majority of other developed nations. The fact is that if America could match the dramatically lower fatality rates that have been achieved by the leading nations — and why shouldn’t this great nation do so? — then between 20,000 and 25,000 U.S. lives would be saved every single year! (Of course, realistically, this rather puts the fear of terrorism in America into perspective. Road crashes in the USA kill the same number of people every four weeks as did that entire, terrible atrocity on 9-11, and yet we went to war over the horrendous attacks in New York and DC, so why have we not done so — metaphorically speaking — over the outrageous number of road deaths?)
On our Advanced Drivers of North America courses for defensive and advanced driving, we inevitably ask the trainees which type of road in America is the most dangerous in terms of people being killed, between:
Fast, divided highways;
Fast arterial roads leading into large towns and cities;
Business and retail-zone streets;
To be fair, a few people do get the answer correct — all kudos to them — and the correct answer is that in America and in most other developed nations, more people are killed in crashes on rural roads than on all other types of road added together.
There are several factors which create this situation, including;
Inappropriate speeds on narrow and sometimes curvy & hilly roads;
Road maintenance and traffic signs, etc., can be questionable;
Slow-moving, large agricultural vehicles are often common (see photo);
Mud and agricultural detritus can be occasional, serious hazards;
Wild animals as well as farm animals can be more likely, on the road;
There’s relatively very little police enforcement;
Because of low enforcement, drunk-driving etc., can be more common;
Local drivers’ over-confidence that “nobody will be coming,” etc.
Yesterday — June 27 — the Post and Courier ran a saddening article under the headline ‘South Carolina leads nation in fatality rate for rural roads, study says’, and while that word “leads” is confusing, it eventually became clear that “nearly four people died on [SC] state rural roads for every 100 million miles of travel.”
Four deaths per 100 million miles might sound like a small figure to any layman who is not “up” on the subject but believe me it is not. The latest figures show the U.S. national rate to be 1.13 and South Carolina’s overall rate to be 1.89. In other words, a rate of “nearly four” is about 250 percent higher than the national average and about 67 percent higher than South Carolina’s own overall average. To put it another way (using 2016 figures), if the US average road death rate was the same as South Carolina’s rate of deaths on rural roads, the annual number of highway fatalities in America would skyrocket from 40,200 per year — which is already far too high — to something approaching a mind-numbing 140,700.
The city of Los Angeles’ ambitious program to reverse a rising trend of traffic deaths and eliminate road fatalities by 2025 is having unintended consequences in communities sensitive to increased traffic enforcement and mistrustful of street improvements….
Los Angeles embraced an international initiative to cut traffic fatalities started in Sweden called Vision Zero as it tries to grapple with traffic crash fatalities that have risen by 43 percent between 2015 and 2016.
With an average 6.27 traffic deaths per 100,000 residents each year, L.A. has the highest traffic death rate of any major city in the country. Last year, 260 people died in L.A. street crashes, about 30 fewer than died in homicides in the city in 2016….
…many of the most dangerous streets in the city are concentrated in low-income communities of color like South L.A….
“Black lives matter, right? I think they matter in a lot of ways,” said Harris-Dawson, who has championed the Vision Zero effort….
During recent budget negotiations… the council eventually agreed to allocate about $27 million to Vision Zero-related projects, a nine-fold increase over the previous year’s funding, but still less than the $80 million that the Department of Transportation said is needed to meet the program’s stated goal of reducing traffic deaths by 20 percent this year.
In early June… [Harris-Dawson] invited community members to offer their feedback on proposed safety measures like longer pedestrian signals and curb bulb-outs that force cars to make wider, slower turns….
One major component of the plan is proving especially controversial: increased policing of traffic violations. There is concern that this part of the Vision Zero plan could do more harm than good in neighborhoods like South L.A.
The city is spending an extra $1.5 million to beef up traffic policing on the most dangerous streets, which are concentrated in low-income communities of color….
[Tamika] Butler has argued that an emphasis on traffic stops will sow more fear and distrust of law enforcement in neighborhoods where relations are already strained….
Lt. Dave Ferry with the Los Angeles Police Department said if giving tickets is needed to save lives, his department will do that. “We’re not gonna pick and choose where we do lifesaving measures like traffic enforcement,” he said….
But Butler wants to see L.A. go further in addressing community concerns by following the lead of cities like Portland. That city’s Vision Zero plans prioritize street redesign and education rather than increased traffic enforcement because of concerns over racial profiling. [And] in San Francisco, police are directed to focus on the five most dangerous driving behaviors, like running red lights….
All credit to Los Angeles for setting themselves a demanding road death reduction target, but with respect, an attempt to “eliminate road fatalities by 2025” when the city currently “has the highest traffic death rate of any major city in the [USA]” and is trying “to grapple with traffic crash fatalities that have risen by 43 percent between 2015 and 2016,” seems more than a little bit over-optimistic.
It must be remembered, perhaps, that most-reliably-successful two countries in the developed world — Sweden and the UK — have been working long and hard towards their current very low death rates for at least the last 30 years, so for L.A. to do significantly better than that, by actually zeroing the deaths in just eight years, would appear highly-improbable.
One of the biggest hurdles facing any significant progress by the USA in this direction is that of driver safety culture, but I feel obliged to reiterate my belief that in America the root of this problem is perhaps as bad within the road safety community as it is among the public. Despite certain references to other countries that have vastly lower rates of road deaths than here in America, it seems to me that there has always been a very stubborn determination that the workers concerned are going to do things their own way, irrespective of what the relevant other countries have established by way of research and best practices. I’m very aware that this sounds like a sweeping statement so let me stress that I do not think for one minute that it applies to all road safety people in America — there are some truly top people out there — but I do think it applies to too many people!
The annual fact sheet from the statistical branch of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] contains the following important topics, on a state-by-state basis where relevant, and with national totals shown:
■■ State Traffic Fatality Tables
• Table 1: Traffic Fatalities and Fatality Rates, by State, 2015
• Table 2: Traffic Fatalities and Percent Change, by State, 1975-2015
• Table 3: Traffic Fatality Rates and Percent Change, by State, 1975-2015
• Table 4: Alcohol Involvement in Fatal Traffic Crashes, by State, 2006 and 2015
• Table 5: Speeding-Related Traffic Fatalities, by Roadway Function Class and State, 2015
• Table 6: Passenger Vehicle Occupant Fatalities, by Restraint Use and State, 2015
• Table 7: Motorcyclist Fatalities, by Helmet Use and State, 2015
• Table 8: Traffic Fatalities and Vehicles Involved in Fatal Crashes, by Person Type and State, 2015
■■ Restraint Use and Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws
In general, many of the figures and changes in rates, etc., in this paper might look good but the truth is that when those figures are viewed alongside their equivalents from other developed countries it swiftly becomes clear that America actually performs very badly. Put simply, if the USA could match the significantly lower rates of road deaths found in the world’s leading road safety nations (currently Norway, Sweden, the UK and Switzerland), over 20,000 American lives would be saved every year and a vastly higher number of injuries would either be prevented or reduced in severity.
So what are the main things that are holding the USA back in this field? Sadly, it’s an easy answer: Politics, and a distressing tendency for nobody in U.S. officialdom to tell the public the truth about the situation. Indeed, at present virtually everyone who is ‘high up’ in US highway safety seems to be pinning their hopes very prematurely just on the eventual arrival of fully-autonomous (i.e. ‘self-driving’) cars, without any adequately effective attempts to dramatically cut the horrendous death rates in the meanwhile.
“…In pure numbers, more people die from car crashes in San Diego than are murdered. The city’s police department counted 260 traffic deaths on city streets from 2012 to 2016, and 206 murders over the same time period. Adding in the number of people who die on San Diego freeways, which are governed by Caltrans, there were more than twice as many traffic deaths as there were murders….”