Vehicle Crash Fatalities Could Drop by Half with Proven Strategies; Country Comparisons

On July 6, 2016, the CDC reported that, about 90 people die each day from motor vehicle crashes in the United States, resulting in the highest death rate among 19 high-income comparison countries. 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, according to the latest report by the CDC.


Lower death rates in comparison countries, as well as the high prevalence of risk factors in the U.S., suggest that more progress can be made in saving lives. Compared with other high-income countries, the U.S. had the:


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


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—about 24,000 fewer lives would have been lost and an estimated $281 million in direct medical costs would have been averted in 2013.


“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, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “People of our nation deserve better and safer transport."


For this report, the CDC analyzed data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The CDC determined the number and rate of motor vehicle crash deaths in the U.S. and 19 other high-income countries and reported national seat belt use and percentage of deaths that involved alcohol-impaired driving or speeding, by country, when available. 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, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


Each country included in the study was a member of OECD, met the World Bank’s definition for high income, had a population of more than one million people, and reported the annual number of motor vehicle deaths and vehicle miles traveled. In addition, the difference between the country-reported motor vehicle crash death rate and the WHO-estimated rate could not exceed one death per 100,000 population.


“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, Ph.D., M.P.H., transportation safety team lead at the 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 researchers recommend using seat belts in both front and rear seats, properly using car seats and booster seats for children through at least age eight, never drinking and driving, obeying speed limits, and eliminating distracted driving. In addition, states can use proven strategies including implementing comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems, which help new drivers gain experience under low-risk conditions by granting driving privileges in stages. Research shows that more comprehensive GDL systems prevent more crashes and deaths than less comprehensive GDL systems to support these actions that save lives, prevent injuries, and avert crash-related costs.


There is an approach to road safety that began in Sweden and is gaining traction in the United States called Vision Zero. This is an aspirational vision that, in the long-term, seeks to eliminate death and serious injury on the road. Vision Zero starts with the premise that traffic injuries are not “accidents,” no loss of life on the road is acceptable, all humans make mistakes, and traffic injuries are preventable. In the Vision Zero program, responsibility for crashes and injuries are shared between the users of the road, who are expected to follow basic rules, and the so-called “system providers,” which include developers of road infrastructure, the automobile industry, and the police, who are responsible for the functioning of the system. Eighteen U.S. cities have adopted this approach and many more are considering implementing it. Additionally, several U.S. states and the Federal Highway Administration have embraced “Towards Zero Deaths,” which is based on the Vision Zero philosophy.


See the CDC Announcement


See the CDC Report