Are American Drivers Driving More Safely?
The last time the U.S. saw a substantial drop in traffic fatalities was 1974, when the double whammy of the recession and the 55 mph speed limit (a reaction to the fuel shortage) saw the number of fatalities drop by some 9000 (it’s still debated to what extent this had to do with the economy and to what extent it had to do with the speed limit).
But this year, which promises to see the first annual drop in vehicle miles traveled in 28 years, is also shaping up, if trends continue, to see fatalities drop below 40,000 for the first time since 1961.
This comes from a new preliminary report from Michael Sivak, head of the Human Factors division at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. What’s even more interesting, notes Sivak, is that the drop in fatalities we’re seeing seems to exceed what we might expect based on the drops in fuel consumption and miles driven. It suggests a fascinating trend: U.S. drivers might not only be driving less, but driving differently.
Sivak, whose work (especially this one) has been an influence in Traffic, points out several factors that may underlie this. For one, the mileage reduction has been greater on rural highways, which are statistically riskier. Also, he suggests, the mileage of lower-income drivers, who are also statistically over-involved in crashes, may be have disproportionately dropped. And more people may be driving more slowly to save fuel, further reducing the risk of a fatal crash. I might even suggest another possible factor: Larger, higher consumption vehicles like SUVs and pickups — which pose a greater risk to other drivers — seem to be being driven less, which could also improve things for everyone.
There’s more parsing of the data to come from Sivak, so stay tuned…
This entry was posted on Thursday, July 31st, 2008 at 6:23 am and is filed under Drivers, Risk, Traffic Reports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.