Traffic deaths were up 9.3 percent last year. What's happening on our roads?

fatalities by reggion
Public Domain National Highway Transportation Safety Administration

As cars have been getting better, the number of people killed in cars has been dropping for years, down 20 percent since 2000. But in the last year they have spiked like mad, up 9.3 percent in the first nine months of 2015. As we have noted before, the miles driven has increased as well, thanks to the dropping price of gas, but not nearly as much. What's causing this? Why is the rise in deaths so much greater than the rise in miles?

According to Joe Cortright in City Observatory, there could be a number of reasons.

First, we know that some traffic phenomena, like traffic congestion, are very non-linear: the roughly 3 percent decline in traffic in 2008 produced a 30 percent reduction in traffic congestion. Second, it may well be that the additional (or, in economist-speak, “marginal”) miles driven, and marginal drivers driving them, are for some reason less safe than the typical mile driven. If we take longer trips, we may drive on more dangerous roads, or at more dangerous times. Third, it may be that people are driving faster—some research showed that high fuel prices induced motorists to slow down—and speed is strongly correlated with road safety.

road deaths graph© City Observatory

Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog suggests that planning has something to do with it.

In its messages, NHTSA [National Highway Transportation Safety Administration] keeps hammering “behavioral” issues, like drunk driving and failing to wear seatbelts — which certainly are big contributors to traffic fatalities. But when you get down to it, driving itself is the source of risk, and NHTSA won’t address the systemic factors that compel Americans to drive instead of taking transit, walking, or biking. You’ll never see NHTSA mention the disaster that is low-density, single-use zoning, which lengthens the distances people have to travel in cars. Or the way state DOTs keep building bigger highways even though they don’t maintain the roads they already have.

That is a bit of a stretch, to blame sprawl for the recent uptick, but she is right about the basic principle- we have to give people safe alternatives to the car, and it's tough, the way we've built out America.


More to the point is Janette Sadik-Kahn's tweet. Cars don't have second amendment rights; why do we allow such a deadly product to be sold?

Tags: Transportation | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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