Lessons Learned Abroad: Why Auto Accident Death Rates Are Lower in Europe Than in the U.S.

There’s been some encouraging news regarding U.S. traffic safety: National motor vehicle crash fatality numbers are down to the lowest levels in years (an estimated 32,788 deaths for 2010). The same holds true for Maryland auto accident deaths (547 fatalities in 2009).

The gains are attributed to a number of factors, including safer vehicles with more technology enhanced safety features; increased public awareness and usage of safety devices such as seat belts, child car seats, and motorcycle helmets; and greater enforcement of driving and traffic laws to prevent car, truck, motorcycle, and pedestrian accidents from happening in the first place.

Traffic cameras are one tool that law enforcement uses to deter and catch speeders and other dangerous drivers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that Maryland is one state where traffic cameras are, in fact, discouraging drivers from speeding — one of the leading causes of serious and fatal car crashes (see link to related articles about Maryland speed cams, below). The IIHS writes:

Institute studies in Maryland and Arizona found that the proportion of drivers exceeding speed limits by more than 10 mph fell by 70 percent and 95 percent, respectively, after cameras were introduced. Speeds also fell on roads outside the enforcement area (IIHS Status Report, Jan. 31, 2008).

As a Baltimore County wrongful death lawyer knows from work with grieving clients — one death on the Maryland roads is one too many, and enough to change the lives of families forever. Despite the gains of recent years in preventing accidents and saving lives, the U.S. lags behind Europe in decreasing auto accident fatality rates even further. A Transportation Research Board (TRB) study that found that motor vehicle accident “deaths in most other high-income countries are dropping much faster than in the U.S.”

In Europe, car accident fatality rates are lower per vehicle mile travelled, as compared to in the U.S. The study attributes the lives saved to wider acceptance and usage of traffic cameras, roadway design features such as roundabouts (rotaries), universal motorcycle helmet laws, lower illegal blood alcohol concentration levels and more frequent roadside testing for drunk driving, and a more aggressive approach to drivers who speed.

The study also noted that while U.S. federal, state, and local agencies all have a hand in driving safety programs — European countries tend to have one central road safety agency that coordinates all programs. The IIHS quotes the TRB study authors: “No U.S. speed management program today is comparable in scale, visibility, and political commitment to the most ambitious programs in other countries.” Countries beating us in the race to save lives on roadways include Australia, France, Sweden, and the U.K. Clearly there’s much more work to be done in the U.S.

Related Maryland Injury Attorney Articles:

Deterring Baltimore County Traffic Accidents: Speed Camera Laws Go Into Effect (Oct. 7, 2009)

Baltimore Traffic Accident Prevention: Speed Cameras May Snap Offenders at Schools and Construction Sites (July 21, 2009)


U.S. Trails Other Wealthy Nations on Road Safety Gains (PDF)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Status Report, Vol. 46, No. 7, Aug. 18, 2011
Achieving Traffic Safety Goals in the United States: Lessons from Other Nations
Transportation Research Board of the National Academies

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