While regulations in the United States have made great strides in reducing traffic deaths over the last 16 years, evidence from other wealthy countries around the world shows there's still a lot that can be done to save lives. Through increased efforts on the part of law enforcement, traffic fatalities have dropped by 31 percent in the U.S. since 2000. However, other countries have reduced their fatality rates by more than 50 percent in this same time period. How did they do it?
How the U.S. Compares
When compared to 19 other high-income nations, the U.S. ranks first in motor vehicle deaths at an average of 10.3 deaths per 10,000 registered vehicles each year. The lowest fatality numbers come from Sweden, which has only 2.7 deaths for every 10,000 registered vehicles per year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following facts are also true of the U.S.:
- We have the second-highest rate of alcohol-related deaths at 31 percent.
- We have the third lowest rate of seatbelt use at 87 percent.
- We have the lowest reduction in traffic fatalities since 2000 at 31 percent.
France has the highest rate of seatbelt use at 99 percent and the average of all 19 countries is 94 percent, so the U.S. is clearly lagging behind in seat belt use. The only country with more alcohol-related traffic fatalities is Canada at 34 percent. Spain managed to reduce traffic fatalities by 75 percent. So, what can we learn from these comparison countries?
Strategies That Would Decrease Traffic Deaths in the U.S.
The truth is, we know what protects drivers and passengers from serious injury or death in a motor vehicle accident, but we're behind other countries in mandating and enforcing these life-saving strategies in all states.
Recommendations from the CDC and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—and how Kansas and Missouri stack up—include:
- Implementing primary enforcement seat belt laws that cover occupants in all seating positions. Kansas has a primary enforcement law for drivers and passengers in the front seat and all passengers under the age of 18. Missouri’s seat belt law is only a primary offense for children under the age of 16. For all other occupants, it's a secondary offense.
- Mandating the use of car seats and booster seats for motor vehicle passengers through at least age eight. Most states, including Kansas and Missouri, don’t require children weighing 80 pounds or more, or with a height of 4ft. 9in. or taller, to use a booster seat.
- Implementing comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems. These programs grant driving privileges in stages. Research shows that more comprehensive GDL systems prevent a greater number of crashes and deaths than less comprehensive GDL systems.
While both Kansas and Missouri have graduated licensing systems, neither state’s requirements meet the recommendations from the CDC, which include the following:
- A minimum age of 16 years for learner’s permits.
- A mandatory holding period of at least 12 months for learner’s permits.
- Nighttime driving restrictions between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. (or longer) for intermediate or provisional license holders.
- A limit of zero or one young passengers who can ride with intermediate or provisional license holders without adult supervision.
- A minimum age of 18 years for unrestricted licensure.
- Requiring ignition interlock devices for everyone convicted of alcohol-impaired driving. Kansas requires the use of an ignition interlock device for six months after a 30-day license suspension following a DUI first offense. Missouri, however, only requires an ignition interlock device for six months after a driver' license is suspended or revoked, which is not on a first offense.
For most of these recommendations, only a handful of states are already compliant. Currently in the U.S., there are an average of 90 deaths per day due to motor vehicle crashes. With full enforcement of stricter safety regulations, we could reduce this rate even further.
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