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Study: US Traffic Safety Falling Behind Other Nations

A new study co-authored by an Indiana University researcher says the United States is not doing enough to keep its roads safe.  But the numbers may not be as dire as the report’s conclusions.

The report compares drivers in the United States with those in 16 other high-income countries around the world.  And, to look at the percentages, the US appears to lag behind.

From 1997 to 2008, the US trailed all the other countries in terms of its annual reduction of traffic fatalities – lowering its rare at about a fourth the speed that Slovenia did, for instance.  But, as the study’s lead author Clint Oster pointed out, the United States began with a statistical advantage.

“We used to have the safest highways in the world, but now we don’t,” he said. “And so the question is: are there some things we can do to reduce the loss of life?”

The US had a lower auto fatality rate than every country in world in 1970, at only three deaths per 100 million kilometers driven.  France’s and Japan’s rates, by contrast, were at least three times that.  By 2008, most nations in the study had dropped their rates by 85% to 90%, while the US only fell 74%.  While the American percentage drop is smaller, it’s important to note the initial rate was much better, so there was less *potential* for improvement.  Now, the US has death rate similar to the other nations in the report, with many of them below one fatality per hundred million kilometers.  In fact, that’s just one factor which Oster said makes an “apples to apples” comparison difficult.

“You can normalize it a little but by looking in terms of fatalities per some number of passenger miles, so that you can at least get rates of fatalities.  And that will get you through differences in sizes of countries and populations and that sort of thing,” he said.

The study was funded by a number of entities including the National Research Council and the General Motors Foundation.

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