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US Lags Behind Other Countries In Traffic Safety

November 16, 2010

A new report by the National Research Council says that the U.S. is missing significant opportunities to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.

The council said that the traffic fatalities from 1995 and 2009 dropped only 19 percent in the U.S., compared to 52 percent in France.

“There is a notable gap between traffic safety progress in the U.S. and other nations that deserves our attention,” said Clinton V. Oster Jr., committee chair and professor, Indiana University, Bloomington. “The U.S. could learn from the effective strategies in place elsewhere to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities.”

The committee found that countries most successful at reducing traffic deaths had comprehensive safety programs like improved road design and traffic management, regulation of vehicle safety and regulation of driver behaviors. 

The study found that successful national programs excel at management and planning from political support and leadership.  The council said the most critical area for improvement in the U.S. may be in management and planning.

“These management practices have produced success in other countries,” said Oster, “but are lacking in the traffic safety programs of most U.S. states.”

The committee urged the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to revise its Guidelines for State Highway Safety Programs and develop a new model for state strategic highway safety plans that would have specific resource requirements and the expected outcomes of safety interventions.

It also advises sate legislatures to require regular reporting from the responsible executive agencies on progress in fulfilling the state’s safety plan. 

Two enforcement tools that have been successful for other countries include automatic enforcement of speed limits and frequent roadside sobriety checks.  These tools are not common in the U.S. because of legal restrictions, popular opposition, and cost considerations. 

The report estimates that frequent use of sobriety checkpoints to detect drunk drivers could save 1,500 to 3,000 lives annually in the U.S. and systematic speed control programs could save 1,000 to 2,000 lives annually. 

The study was sponsored by the Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council and by the General Motors Foundation.

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