Photo: Oregon State Police

Here's a shocking figure: with 90 people dying on U.S. highways each day, the United States has the highest traffic death rate among the top 20 high-income nations. And while death rates were down in the U.S. by 31 percent from 2000 to 2013, other high-income countries cut their crash deaths by an average of 56 percent during the same period.

The latest Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that, 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, the CDC found.

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.


Scant comfort

The fact that U.S. deaths are down somewhat should be no comfort, according to Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

“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,” she said. “People of our nation deserve better and safer transport."

Failure to use seat belts and drunken driving are major factors. 

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, CDC researchers said.

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.  

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.

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