Road Deaths: U.S. vs. Other Countries

A recent article in the NYTimes noted that traffic fatalities in the US reached the highest in 50 years as more drivers are distracted with smartphone apps. From the article:

The messaging app Snapchat allows motorists to post photos that record the speed of the vehicle. The navigation app Waze rewards drivers with points when they report traffic jams and accidents. Even the game Pokémon Go has drivers searching for virtual creatures on the nation’s highways.

When distracted driving entered the national consciousness a decade ago, the problem was mainly people who made calls or sent texts from their cellphones. The solution then was to introduce new technologies to keep drivers’ hands on the wheel. Innovations since then — car Wi-Fi and a host of new apps — have led to a boom in internet use in vehicles that safety experts say is contributing to a surge in highway deaths.

After steady declines over the last four decades, highway fatalities last year recorded the largest annual percentage increase in 50 years. And the numbers so far this year are even worse. In the first six months of 2016, highway deaths jumped 10.4 percent, to 17,775, from the comparable period of 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now,” Mark R. Rosekind, the head of the agency, said in an interview.

Source: Biggest Spike in Traffic Deaths in 50 Years? Blame Apps by Neal Boudette, Nov 15 2016, NY Times

Globally about 1.2 million people die each year due to road accidents. Some of the countries with lowest road death rates per 100,000 inhabitants are Iceland, Sweden, the UK, Norway and Switzerland while countries like South Africa have some of the highest death rates according to OECD data. Incidentally the U.S. has the highest road deaths among developed countries as shown in the chart below:

Click to enlarge


Source: Road death challenge, OECD Observer

Even before the popularity of apps and internet connectivity in cars, many American drivers were bad drivers than European drivers. Though speed limits are much higher in Europe, drivers there tend to drive more safely and drive better cars. In the US, many drive bigger cars and SUVs that look like military tanks on the road but that does not mean necessarily they are safe drivers.

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