Traffic Fatalities Essay

News of road accidents and fatalities on the road can be found in newspapers and television on a daily basis. According to a report in the Gazette Times dated November 27, 2006, four of the five front-page stories on the morning of Nov. 22 fell into a pattern: “OSU student dies in crash”; “Holiday drivers should prepare” (for treacherous driving conditions), “Woman dies in Highway 34 collision” and “DUII arrests up 60 percent.” Every day 119 people die in motor vehicle crashes. That’s one person killed every 12 minutes. Government reports traffic deaths nationwide peaked to a 15 year high in 2005 (Reuters, 2006). More people died on the road while driving drunk or in bigger vehicles.

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Preliminary statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that the total traffic deaths in 2005 reached 43, 443. Passenger car deaths dropped slightly in 2005, while light truck fatalities, which include minivans, sport utility vehicles and pick-up trucks rose by 4.3 percent. Likewise motorcycle, pedestrian and large truck deaths also went up. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for people under 33 according to safety advocates. The above given statistics on motor vehicle fatalities are based on data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). FARS is a census of fatal crashes within the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

With so many lives being lost on the roads, one is forced to wonder what the reasons behind so many traffic fatalities are. Speeding is usually a prime factor. In recent years, rollovers have accounted for about one-quarter of all deaths but only a fraction of all crashes, federal statistics show. SUVs, pickup trucks and vans are more prone to roll than passenger cars because of their weight and higher center of gravity. The Traffic Safety Report of 2005 shows that speeding was responsible for 30% of all fatal crashes in the year 2005. Teenagers and males are more likely to be speeding. A recent study examined the impact of speeding after the national speed limit was repealed in November 1995.

Researchers found states that had increased their speed limits to 75 mph (120 km/h) experienced a shocking 38 per cent increase in deaths per million vehicle miles than expected, compared to deaths in those states that did not change their speed limits. Though the speed limit in California is 70 mph, the mean speed is 74 (CSC, 2006). This indicates that speeding has become part of daily driving. As US speed limits have been raised, statistics show an associated increase in lives lost.

This is because speed increases the probability and severity of a crash. The faster a vehicle is moving, the more difficult it is for the driver to react to a sudden danger and more difficult for other road passengers to get out of the way. It has been found that as speed increases over 100 km/h, the fatality rate of vehicle occupants goes up exponentially. Speeding is the resultant of modern high tech automotives. The average horsepower of a car has increased by over 50% in the last two decades. In the 2000 model year, six per cent of vehicles had turbocharged engines, the highest percentage ever.

Youngsters are likely to be influenced by ads showing vehicles racing and swerving on the roads and taking part in adventurous routines. The only way to control damage due to speeding is by enforcing the speed limit. This can be done using the photo-radar where cameras identify vehicles that are breaking the speed limit. A poll commissioned by the Canada Safety Council in August 2003 found two-thirds of the 2,000 respondents supported photo radar on the highway. When asked if there should be warning signs to advise of the possible presence of photo enforcement 68 per cent said yes.

A standard sign for photo enforcement should be installed along roads where cameras may be present. When speeders know they could be caught, many choose to slow down. The signs are essential, because the real purpose is not to catch drivers who break the law, but rather to stop them from offending in the first place.

Alcohol and speeding are a deadly combination as is evident in the large number of alcohol related crashes. During 2005, 16,885 people in the U.S. died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, representing 39% of all traffic-related deaths (NHTSA 2006). Another interesting statistic is that nearly 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in 2005 (Department of Justice 2005). Drugs and drugs with a combination of alcohol are also important contributing facts of traffic deaths.

Moreover, children who travel with drunk parents get killed in alcohol related crashes. More than half of the 414 child passengers ages 14 and younger who died in alcohol-related crashes during 2005 were riding with the drinking driver (NHTSA 2006). The risk of being involved in an alcohol related crash is greater for young people than for older people. In 2005, 16% of drivers ages 16 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had been drinking alcohol (NHTSA 2006). According to studies men were nearly three times as likely as women to report alcohol-impaired driving, and single people were about 50 percent more likely to report alcohol-impaired driving than married people or those living with a partner.

CDC and the Task Force on Community Preventive Services which is an independent, nonfederal panel of community health experts published systematic reviews of the literature for eight community-based interventions to reduce alcohol-impaired driving. The reviews revealed that the factors that proved most effective are: blood alcohol concentration (BAC) laws, minimum legal drinking age laws, sobriety checkpoints, and mass media campaigns, lower BAC laws for young or inexperienced drivers, school-based education programs and intervention training programs for alcohol servers.

The type of vehicle is also an important factor in traffic related deaths. A study by Ross and Wenzel (2002) compares the risk of death in traffic accidents, depending on type of vehicle and vehicle model. The study takes into account two types of risks: the risk to the driver of the vehicle model in question in all types of crashes and the risk to the drivers of other vehicles involved in crashes with the model in question. The sum of those risks is the combined risk. The results show that sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are not necessarily safer for their drivers than cars; Minivans and import luxury cars have the safest records. If combined risk is considered, most cars are safer than the average SUV, while pickup trucks are much less safe than all other types (Ross and Wenzel, 2002).

In 2005, 31,415 occupants of passenger vehicles were killed in traffic crashes and an additional 2,446,000 were injured, accounting for 84 percent of all occupant fatalities (passenger cars 49%, light trucks and vans 35%) and 95 percent of all occupants injured (passenger cars 61%, light trucks and vans 34%). Occupant fatalities in single-vehicle crashes accounted for 43 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities in 2005. Occupant fatalities in multiple-vehicle crashes accounted for 43 percent of all fatalities, and the remaining 14 percent were nonoccupant fatalities (pedestrians, pedal cyclists, etc).

The number of deadly car accidents increases substantially a few days after a terrorist attack, according to a new study published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Surveys conducted after terrorist attacks have consistently found increases in posttraumatic stress and anxiety, particularly among those closest to the violence.

Demographers Guy Stecklov of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and Joshua Goldstein of Princeton University in New Jersey analyzed traffic accidents in Israel during an 18-month period in 2001 and 2002. Three days after terrorist attacks, traffic fatalities increased by 35% above the normal rate. After larger attacks, traffic deaths surged 69%. Fatality rates returned to normal by the next day. The authors suggest that some fatal accidents may be disguised suicides. He argues that research should be done on whether stress is at the root of traffic fatalities (Stokstad, 2004).

An 82-percent safety belt use rate nationwide and a reduction in the rate of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes to 39 percent in 2005 from 42 percent in 1995 account for a slight reduction in overall fatality rate compared to 1995. In 2005, 49 States and the District of Columbia had safety belt use laws in effect.

However, the frequency of use varies widely from State to State depending on public attitudes, enforcement practices, the State Law and public awareness. Reports show that safety belts can save lives in times of accidents. In 2005, 35% of passenger car occupants involved in fatal crashes did not have any seat belt. Safety belts and helmets are effective in preventing total ejection of the passengers during accidents. NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,546 motorcyclists in 2005.

The following safety guidelines have been developed by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: wear safety belts; don’t drink and drive; obey traffic safety rules; drive defensively; keep your vehicle in good mechanical condition; and wear safety belts (AAOS, 2006).

There may be more laws, more regulations and more statistics – all working together to reduce traffic fatalities. But all of these will not be effective if public awareness is not increased. Public awareness comes through effective use of media and through proper education.


Stokstad, Erik (2004). Terrorism Causes Spike in Traffic Deaths. 20 September 2004. http://www.siricarpenter.com/writingsamples/ScienceNOW/Terrorism_Traffic_Deaths.pdf

NHTSA (2005). Traffic Safety Facts. 2005 Data. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSF2005/OverviewTSF05.pdf

Gazette-Times (2006). DUIIs, traffic deaths form a deadly link. http://www.gazettetimes.com/articles/2006/11/27/news/opinion/1moned1127.txt

AAOS (2006). Driving Safety. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/fact/thr_report.cfm?thread_id=96&topcategory=Injury%20Prevention

Canada Safety Council (CSC, 2006). Higher Speeds Drive Traffic Deaths Up. http://www.safety-council.org/info/traffic/speed.html

Ross, Marc and Wenzel, Tom (2002). An Analysis of Traffic Deaths by Vehicle Type and Model. http://www.aceee.org/pubs/t021full.pdf

Reuters (2006). U.S. Traffic Deaths Hit 15-year High in 2005. Epoch Times. April 24, 2006. http://www.theepochtimes.com/news/6-4-24/40658.html

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