Road fatalities overseas falling faster than in the U.S.

While road users in Pennsylvania and around the country may be in less danger today than they were a decade ago, road safety advances in other developed nations have led to falls in fatality rates that are far more dramatic than those recorded in the United States. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report July 6 that compared the rate of motorist, pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the U.S. between 2000 and 2013 with the number of traffic accident fatalities in 19 other developed countries.

During the period studied, car accident deaths in the United States fell by 31 percent, but crash death rates plunged by an average of 56 percent in the other countries studied. Spain’s 75.1 percent reduction and Denmark’s 63.5 percent reduction were part of this average. CDC researchers concluded that about 18,000 American traffic accident fatalities between 2000 and 2013 could have been avoided if road safety advances in the United States had kept pace with improvements in countries like the United Kingdom, Japan and Sweden.

The data, which was provided by the World Health Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, provided plenty of clues for CDC researchers seeking to identify why the fall in fatality rates was so much more pronounced abroad. Only Austrians and Belgians are less likely to buckle up behind the wheel than Americans, and only Canadian motorists are more likely to die in a drunk driving crash.

Improving road safety is often seen as the job of law enforcement and elected representatives, but civil lawsuits may also play a role. Car accident litigation is sometimes filed against the insurance companies of negligent drivers, and those who are persistently reckless behind the wheel may be driven off the road by soaring auto insurance premiums. The fear of lawsuits could also prompt auto insurance companies to be raise coverage for riskier drivers.