About 90 people die each day from motor vehicle crashes in the U.S., resulting in the highest death rate among 19 high-income countries used for comparison, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Though the U.S. has made progress in road safety, reducing crash deaths by 31% from 2000 to 2013, other high-income countries have reduced crash deaths even further by an average of 56% during the same period, the CDC found.
The discrepancy underscores the potential for the U.S. to decrease road fatalities further using proven enforcement methods.
“It is important to compare us not to our past but to our potential,” said Debra Houry, director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Seeing that other high-income countries are doing better, we know we can do better too.”
Compared with other high-income countries, the U.S. 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 U.S. had the same motor vehicle crash death rate as Belgium — the country with the second highest death rate after the U.S. — about 12,000 fewer lives would have been lost and an estimated $140 million in direct medical costs would have been averted in 2013. And if the U.S. 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 $281 million in direct medical costs would have been averted in 2013, according to researchers.
The CDC analyzed data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Researchers determined the number and rate of motor vehicle crash deaths in the U.S. 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.
Countries included in the study were Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.
“With a projected increase in U.S. crash deaths in 2015, the time is right to reassess U.S. progress and set new goals,” the CDC said in a summary of the report. “By implementing effective strategies, including those that increase seat belt use and reduce alcohol-impaired driving and speeding, the United States can prevent thousands of motor vehicle crash-related injuries and deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in direct medical costs every year.”
Researchers recommended using seat belts in both front and rear seats, properly using car seats and booster seats for children through at least age 8, never drinking and driving, obeying speed limits, and eliminating distracted driving.
Each year about half the passenger vehicle occupants who die in crashes in the U.S. are unrestrained. The report noted that “implementing primary enforcement seat belt laws that cover occupants in all seating positions, and requiring the use of car seats and booster seats for motor vehicle passengers through at least age 8 years, could increase restraint use and prevent injuries and deaths in the United States.”
“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,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, transportation safety team lead for CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “About 3,000 lives could be saved each year by increasing seat belt use to 100%, and up to 10,000 lives could be saved each year by eliminating alcohol-impaired driving.”
To download the full report, click here.