Like statistics in any area, the statistics that comprise auto accident figures can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways. One can see good news or bad news; the truth is that the most recent year for which complete statistics are available (2011) are a mixture of both.
The good news in 2011 was that the number of fatalities on U.S. roads declined 1.9% from 2010. However, initial statistics from 2012, courtesy National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, indicated an upsurge in those fatalities in the next year.
That said, it does appear that a variety of factors are enabling fewer people to lose their lives while operating a motorized vehicle in the U.S. The 2011 figure of 32,367 people dying on American roads was the lowest since 1949, good news indeed.
On the other hand, it is still amazing to know that more than 2 million people are injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes every year. That’s a lot of motorists and passengers getting hurt while driving or riding in cars and trucks on American roadways! That exact number of people injured every year—2.24 million—has remained stable over the past few years, which can be seen as heartening or discouraging, depending on your perspective.
To keep that number in context, it should be noted that Americans are driving more miles than ever before, which makes that injury rate more palatable when you realize that the number of injuries per vehicle mile traveled (VMT) is at record lows. In other words, even though more cars are on the road with more drivers going longer distances, the injury rate has remained at the same level over the past several years, even if it doesn’t seem that way where you live!
Several reasons are given for these lower numbers of injuries. Among the chief ones cited by experts are:
- Greater safety measures engineered within vehicles. Air bags have helped to cut the number and seriousness of injuries, for example.
- Seat belt laws have caused more Americans to buckle up, which slashes the number and seriousness of injuries for both driver and passenger.
- More vigilant law enforcement of speeding laws and DUI violations has helped to remove some particularly dangerous drivers off the road. Drunk driving deaths continue to fall, which many chapters of MADD and other organizations attribute to heightened public awareness of the problem.
Now, for some of the less-encouraging news:
- One of the few areas of statistics that saw an increase was in the large-truck category. Occupants of large trucks died at a rate 20% higher in 2011 than the year before, with a 15% uptick in injuries to those passengers, both whopping climbs.
- Motorcycle fatalities continue to rise, jumping to 4,612 in 2011, which accounted for a full 14% of total fatalities, far more than the slice of motorcycles on the road. Motorcyclists were also the only category to post an increase in alcohol-related deaths.
- Cyclists continue to be killed in record numbers on our roads. They died at a rate 8.7% higher than in 2010, and they were injured at a rate 7.7% higher.
- Pedestrians were increasingly victimized on our streets and highways, seeing a 3% jump in fatalities.
Finally, for a few neutral, but telling facts and figures:
- 1 in 3 people who die on an American road are the victims of alcohol-impaired driving (.08 grams per deciliter or greater blood alcohol level).
- There were about 5.4 million crashes on U.S. roads in 2011.
- Of those who died in motor vehicle crashes, more than one-half were not wearing a seat belt. At night, 62% of all those killed were unrestrained.
What can be learned from all of these numbers? Here is a brief analysis:
- People need to wear their seat belts at night, as well as during the daytime. Not wearing a seat belt is asking for severe or fatal injuries. Such a small step can prevent many injuries and deaths; it is mindless to want to ride in a car or truck with a seat belt.
- Motorcyclists are crashing more than ever and drinking and driving more than they didpreviously. Keep a close eye on motorcyclists while on the road.
- As much as we might want to complain about great enforcement of traffic laws, they are keeping our highways and byways safer for everyone. It’s almost a miracle that the number of accidents per mile continues to drop.