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The U.S. has one of the worst rates for traffic fatalities

It’s not news that the United States has far more gun deaths than any industrial nation. But research reveals that Americans also have a higher rate of auto fatalities than much of the civilized world.

While other countries have greatly reduced motor vehicle fatalities in the last 25 years, the U.S. is now on the high end. In fact, we are trending in the wrong direction. Traffic deaths have increased the last couple years.

We used to be a leader in traffic safety. What happened?

We have made some progress. Traffic fatalities in the U.S. steadily declined for decades (before edging up recently). But other countries have caught up and surpassed us through concerted efforts to make cars and roads safer. In 1990, the United States had one of the world’s lowest rates of traffic deaths. But 25 years later, we are one of the highest.

  • In 1990, Sweden and the United States had roughly equal rates – about 12 deaths per billion miles traveled. But a generation later, Sweden leads most countries with 3.2 deaths per BMT while the rate in America remains more than twice as high, at 7.0.  

  • In 1990, France’s roads were twice as deadly as American roads, with a staggering fatality rate of 25.7 against 12.9 in the United States. Since then France has reduced traffic deaths four-fold down to a rate of 5.9.

  • Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Canada, Israel and France all have substantially lower fatality rates that the U.S.

  • Iceland has it figured out. They have dropped from 14.9 (higher than the U.S at the time) to just 1.2 deaths per billion miles.

Other countries have attacked the root causes and contributing factors of motor vehicle crashes. In the U.S., seat belt use and enforcement still lags. By comparison, Canada has increased seat belt compliance to 95 percent. Enforcement strategies and technology improvements such as lower speed limits or red light cameras have been vigorously opposed. Only a few U.S. states have outlawed all use of cellphones while driving, despite evidence that distracted driving kills.

As with guns, Americans have been unwilling to sacrifice their personal freedoms to move the needle on traffic fatalities. Deadly accidents are “not my problem” … until it happens to a loved one.

How many people die in U.S. traffic crashes?

What does 7.0 deaths per billion miles traveled mean? In 2016, it translated to 37,461 men, women and children killed in the United States in traffic accidents – an average of 102 people every day.

If we matched Sweden’s safety campaign, that number would be cut in half, saving nearly 20,000 lives each year. If U.S. roads were as safe as Iceland’s, we could prevent more than 30,000 annual traffic deaths. Other countries have shown the way, but first we have to want to change.

Sources:  New York Times, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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