Why American roadways are some of the deadliest in the world

Included in the new massive infrastructure bill is legislation directing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, to begin the process of getting drunk driving prevention technology into vehicles.
Posted at 2:43 PM, Dec 08, 2022

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates more people died in traffic crashes in 2021 than at any other point over the last 15 years.

It marks a trend as traffic deaths in the United States have been steadily increasing, whereas they have been decreasing in most other developed nations.

In 2020, a year when more people than ever stayed off the roadways due to the pandemic, the United States saw a 5% rise in its number of traffic deaths when compared to the previous three-year average, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It was one of only three developed nations that saw such a rise when other countries like Sweden, France, and Italy all saw decreases of more than 23%.

“Americans are now more likely to die on the roadways than residents of most other developed countries which is a major crisis we should be talking about,” said Yonah Freemark, a researcher with the Urban Institute.

Freemark studies this very matter and he says the issue comes down to a few things.

First, Americans emphasize the use of personal vehicles more than any other nation, and not only that, we drive SUVs more than any other nation. The added height and weight make them deadlier. We also have not taken many of the steps other countries have to prioritize safety rather than reducing congestion, says Freemark. Among them, tightening roadway lanes, using traffic circles, and strengthening traffic enforcement

“Right now, we have no requirements at the federal level that arterial highways that are built by state departments of transportation incorporate pedestrian safety features, minimize roadway traffic speeds or anything of that sort,” he said. “That could produce even more fatalities in the coming years.”

In 1993, people in the US and France were equally as likely to die in a traffic crash, whereas today, Americans are three times more likely to die in a crash than the French, according to a study by the Urban Institute.

The higher probability is not only affecting motorists on the roads, it is affecting first responders who expose themselves each time they respond to a crash.

“A good majority of our line of duty deaths are related to some sort of traffic accident,” said JD Chism of the Denver Fire Department. “There are a significant amount of firefighters who are injured or killed on the scene because of how extremely dangerous that environment is.”

Moving forward, Freemark says prioritizing safety features like traffic circles and speed enforcement can help cap the trend if not reverse it since the numbers show what we prioritize now has placed us in a category of our own.