U.S. Lags Behind Other High-Income Countries in Motor Vehicle Safety

About 90 Americans die each day in a motor vehicle accident

U.S. Lags Behind Other High-Income Countries in Motor Vehicle Safety
Image: NCCC
July 7, 2016

Motor vehicle fatalities in the United States could be cut in half by implementing proven strategies, according to a new study.

In its latest Vital Signs report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed traffic safety data from the U.S. and 19 other high-income countries and reported seat belt use and percentage of deaths that involved alcohol-impaired driving or speeding, by country. Data from 2000 to 2013 was used.

Compared with other high-income countries, the U.S. had the:

  • most motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people and per 10,000 registered vehicles;
  • second highest percentage of deaths involving alcohol (31 percent); and
  • third lowest front seat belt use (87 percent).

Lower death rates in comparison nations, as well as the high prevalence of risk factors in the U.S. , suggest that Americans can make progress in saving lives.

"It is important to compare us not to our past but to our potential. Seeing that other high-income countries are doing better, we know we can do better too," said Debra Houry, in a written statement. Houry is the director of CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. "People of our nation deserve better and safer transport."

The U.S. has made progress in road safety, reducing crash deaths by 31 percent from 2000 to 2013. But other high-income countries reduced crash deaths even further—by an average of 56 percent during the same period.

If the U.S. had the same motor vehicle crash death rate as Belgium—the country with the second highest death rate after the U.S. —about 12,000 fewer lives would have been lost and an estimated $140 million in direct medical costs would have been averted in 2013. And if the U.S. had the same rate as Sweden—the country with the lowest crash death rate— those numbers would jump to 24,000 fewer lives lost and an estimated $281 million medical costs averted.

The researchers recommend using seat belts in both front and rear seats, properly using car seats and booster seats for children through at least age 8, never drinking and driving, obeying speed limits, and eliminating distracted driving. State laws can make a major impact on its citizens following these recommendations.

"It's unacceptable for 90 people to die on our roads each day, especially when we know what works to prevent crashes, injuries, and deaths," said Erin Sauber-Schatz, in a written statement. Sauber-Schatz is the transportation safety team lead for CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. "About 3,000 lives could be saved each year by increasing seat belt use to 100 percent, and up to 10,000 lives could be saved each year by eliminating alcohol-impaired driving."

The other countries included in the study were Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.