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Why America is falling behind on traffic safety

Compared to other nations, the U.S. is a far more dangerous place for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists


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By Police1 BrandFocus Staff

The United States is falling behind other nations when it comes to reducing driving-related fatalities on its roadways.

The United States leads other Western nations like Canada and France in the number of driving-related fatalities.
The United States leads other Western nations like Canada and France in the number of driving-related fatalities. (Getty Images)

“The U.S. underperformance in road safety is especially dramatic,” said a 2022 Bloomberg News report authored by journalist David Zipper. Of every 100,000 Americans, 11.4 died in crashes in 2020, a number that far exceeds countries like Canada, where the 2020 rate of 4.6 fatalities per 100,000 people was the lowest on record. “And unlike most developed nations, U.S. roadways have grown more deadly during the last two decades (including during the pandemic), especially for those outside of cars. Last year saw the most pedestrians killed in the U.S. in 40 years, and deaths among those biking rose 44% from 2010 to 2020.

“The contrast is especially striking among so-called vulnerable road users, a category that includes walkers as well as those using bikes, scooters and wheelchairs,” Bloomberg continued. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2020 International Transport Forum report, “pedestrian deaths in the U.S. rose over 40% from 2010-18, more than twice the pace of any other member country (most of which saw a decline),” said the news website.

What’s causing the carnage?

The terrible carnage and horrible death toll on America’s roads is nothing new. Back in 2019, the Washington Post reported that, “Since January 2000, more Americans have died in car crashes than did in both World Wars, and the overwhelming majority of the wrecks were caused by speeding, drunk or distracted drivers, according to government data.”

Three years earlier, the news about U.S. traffic deaths in the same newspaper was the same. In a 2016 Washington Post article, journalist Michael Laris reported that “Nearly 1 in 3 deaths involved speeding, according to Erin Sauber-Schatz, lead author of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Distracted driving of all types — from texting to taking your eyes or mind off the road for numerous other reasons — accounted for about 10 percent of fatal crashes, Sauber-Schatz said.”

Speeding, drunk driving and distracted driving – i.e., texting or doing other things on smartphones rather than watching the road – remain major sources of U.S. traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities. But there are other causes to consider.

For instance, Americans are wearing seatbelts less, while some states allow backseat passengers to go seatbelt-free. In New Hampshire, there isn’t even a law requiring anyone to wear seatbelts in cars. The reason? “In keeping with New Hampshire's libertarian streak, plenty of Granite Staters prefer to defend their right to engage in reckless behavior,” said an online article from New Hampshire Public Radio. “As a result of never having had one of these laws, fewer people wear their seat belt in New Hampshire than in any other state. The national average is 90 percent. In New Hampshire, it’s just 70 percent.”

Ways to reduce the harm

It is unrealistic to expect American drivers to behave better on the road as a way to increase U.S. traffic safety. But other options exist that can reduce the carnage.

One option is to design walkable communities that favor pedestrians and bicycles and limit four-wheeled vehicle traffic in city centers. In established communities, “traffic calming” tactics such as reduced speed limits, speed bumps and extra curves can make the roads safer by forcing traffic to slow down.

A second option is to substantially improve America’s transit systems while limiting car access. In the U.K., for instance, “You may need to pay the Congestion Charge, Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and/or Low Emission Zone charges to drive in London,” said the Transport for London website.

U.S. states can also follow the lead of countries like Canada and France and embrace – rather than ban – devices like automatic traffic cameras to deter speeding and running red lights. Advanced traffic management solutions such as automated traffic cameras can help change driver behavior and enhance traffic safety by reducing speeding, catching red light jumpers and using automatic license plate recognition to identify dangerous drivers and get them off the road.

The truth is that road safety can be improved in America, and that solutions exist to make it happen. Let’s hope there is a public will to utilize advanced traffic management solutions from companies like Jenoptik.

Visit Jenoptik for more information.

Read next: Speed monitoring programs change driver behavior and save lives

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