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Directions in Highway Safety Cover - Summer 2010 Download Newsletter pdf
[2.7 MB, 12 pgs.]

Summer 2010 | Vol. 12 | No. 4

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Study Analyzes Unprecedented Decline in Road Fatalities

In May, The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute released “Toward Understanding the Recent Large Reductions in U.S. Road Fatalities.” The study seeks to explain the dramatic reduction in U.S. road fatalities from 2005 to 2009, which dropped 22 percent – from 43,510 to 33, 963 deaths – during that time period. A reduction to this degree in such a short amount a time has never occurred since road-safety statistics started being recorded in 1913, with the exception of reductions during World War II.

By analyzing Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, study authors Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle were able to identify conditions that accounted for the largest reductions in fatalities. Overall, they examined 269 variables supplied by FARS and cover 19 of the most interesting patterns, including reported alcohol use, inattentive driving, jaywalking, and young drivers.

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The economic downturn was cited as a possible explanation for changes in fatality patterns. For example, roads with a speed limit of 50 mph or higher recorded greater reductions than roads with lower limits, which is consistent with drivers’ efforts to reduce speeds in order to improve fuel economy. Fatal accidents during rush hours also showed greater reductions than overall accident reduction, possibly from the impact of the poor economy on commuter traffic.

Another reason for recorded reductions was improvement in vehicle safety measures. Multiple fatalities per crash and per vehicle fell, which the authors link to increased usage of airbags in newer vehicles. Additionally, fatalities for young drivers fell, possibly due to fewer young drivers on the road and more widespread use of the graduated driver licensing system.

Unfortunately, some of the variables studied have seen increased fatality rates since 2005. Increased fatalities have been linked to motorcycle use, local roads and streets, alcohol use and distracted driving. Although great strides have been made in highway safety, there are still key problem areas to be addressed.

For the full report, visit: bitstream/2027.42/71390/1/102304.pdf.