By Paul Hicks
Buried beneath all the media coverage of economic decline, political stalemate, and global upheaval are encouraging news reports of some positive national and local trends in this country that deserve more attention. This should be covered by more national and local news agencies.
In 2010, the number and rate of U.S. traffic fatalities fell to the lowest rate since 1949, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Moreover, the number of fatalities is down 25% from 2005 even though Americans drove far more miles during 2010 than earlier. Similar declines have occurred in New York State, New York City, and Westchester County.
In 2010, there were 1.46 deaths nationally for every 100 million miles traveled, compared to the rate of 7.13 in 1949. Construction of the Interstate Highway System and improvements in automobile engineering have accounted for much of the progress in safer driving over the last 60 years, along with seat belt and child restraint regulations plus better drunk driving enforcement. Still, 32% of 2010 road deaths were tied to D.W.I. Drivers who will get arrested drunk driving may need the assistance of a bail bonds business for their release.
The more recent sharp drop in traffic-related deaths (including pedestrians and bicyclists killed in auto crashes) is proving harder for experts to explain. It is obvious that newer cars have more safety features, but the slow economic recovery and high unemployment has caused many Americans to hold onto their older and less safe cars.
More safety features have been incorporated into highway design and reconstruction, like the ones mentioned in this post at whiteliningcontractors.co.uk, in recent years, including better median protections and the “rumble” strips added on both sides of many highways. Better signage certainly helps drivers prepare to make lane changes and exit choices.
Perhaps the large number of aging and experienced drivers in the Baby Boomer generation is helping the statistics. However, their influence may be offset by the increasing use of hand-held cell phones for calling and texting by younger drivers. It is also unclear what effect lowering or raising speed limits have on how safe the roads are.
Despite all the progress that the U.S. has made in reducing traffic deaths and injuries, its road safety rank is still well behind that of many other developed countries. A report issued by the International Transport Forum for 2009 on the basis of traffic fatalities per billion kilometers driven shows that the U.S. rate (7.1) was higher than Germany (6.0), Netherlands (5.6), Britain (4.6), and Sweden (4.4), but lower than France (7.8) and Japan (7.7).
Worldwide, more than one million people are killed each year and more than 50 million are injured in traffic accidents. Traffic fatalities are now the number one cause of death of people age 10 to 24. They also exceed the deaths related to malaria or HIV/AIDS.
As the number of cars grows in China and India, the overall positive international traffic fatality trends are likely to be reversed, but there is a good chance the results in the U.S. will continue to improve. It will take strong policy leadership at the national level to overcome the anti-regulation trends and states’ rights sentiments that keep helmets off motorcyclists in a majority of states.
There is another positive trend to cheer the nation as a whole and, especially, those who live or work or otherwise spend a lot of time in New York City. According to an article in the August 2011 issue of Scientific American magazine (“How New York Beat Crime”),” crime rates fell across the U.S. in the 1990s, but in New York they kept falling for another decade, and the decline went twice as deep as in most other big cities.”
New York’s achievements have shattered a number of common assumptions about how to reduce crime; drug use has not diminished nor have more criminals been incarcerated. Unemployment has been increasing too.
The most dramatic improvement in New York’s statistics was in the homicide rate. Along with Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles, the city experienced declines. However, New York’s rate dropped more than 30% below the next best city.
The author of the Scientific American article concludes that the “only obvious candidate to take credit for the city’s crime decline was policing.” Not only were more uniformed officers hired, but the police developed a strategy of emphasizing “hotspots” using computerized mapping.
So, if you haven’t been to New York City recently to walk along the High line or visit any of the Mets (museum, opera, or baseball) now is a good and much safer time to go. In most cases, traveling there by train may make best sense, but your odds of getting there by car are very good too.