USA could drastically reduce crash fatalities if it adopts strategies used by other countries

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The USA could dramatically reduce the number of vehicle crash fatalities if it adopted the proven strategies used by other countries, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

According to the CDC’s latest Vital Signs report, about 90 people die each day from motor vehicle crashes in the USA, resulting in the highest death rate among 19 high-income comparison countries. The country has made progress in road safety, reducing crash deaths by 31% from 2000 to 2013, but other high-income countries reduced crash deaths even further, by an average of 56% during the same period. Lower death rates in comparison countries, as well as the high prevalence of risk factors in the USA, suggest that the country could make more progress in saving lives. Compared with other high-income countries, the USA had: the most motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 population and per 10,000 registered vehicles; the second highest percentage of deaths involving alcohol (31%); and the third lowest front seat belt use (87%).

If the USA had the same motor vehicle crash death rate as Belgium, the country with the second highest death rate after the USA, about 12,000 fewer lives would have been lost and an estimated US$140m in direct medical costs would have been averted in 2013. However, if the USA had the same rate as Sweden, the country with the lowest crash death rate, about 24,000 fewer lives would have been lost and an estimated US$281m in direct medical costs would have been averted in 2013.

For the Vital Signs report, CDC analyzed data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). CDC determined the number and rate of motor vehicle crash deaths in the USA and 19 other high-income countries and reported national seat belt use and percentage of deaths that involved alcohol-impaired driving or speeding, by country, when available. Each country included in the study was a member of OECD, met the World Bank’s definition for high income, had a population of more than 1 million people, and reported the annual number of motor vehicle deaths and vehicle miles traveled.

“It is important to compare us, not to our past, but to our potential. Seeing that other high-income countries are doing better, we know we can do better too,” said Debra Houry, director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “People of our nation deserve better and safer transport.”

Erin Sauber-Schatz, CDC’s transportation safety team leader, noted, “It’s unacceptable for 90 people to die on our roads each day, especially when we know what works to prevent crashes, injuries and deaths. About 3,000 lives could be saved each year by increasing seat belt use to 100 percent, and up to 10,000 lives could be saved each year by eliminating alcohol-impaired driving.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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