Improving road safety: Lessons from Europe

January 15, 2013

Tougher drunk driving laws, lower speed limits and stricter seat belt laws are the best ways to reduce traffic deaths in the United States, say researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

"Despite recent major improvements in in the U.S., the current safety level is far below the level of the best-performing countries," said Michael Sivak, research professor at UMTRI.

Sivak and colleague Juha Luoma, an UMTRI visiting research scientist from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, compared the amount and kinds of in the U.S., United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands.

They found that the number of road deaths has fallen in all four countries since 2006. However, the fatality rate per population is much higher in the U.S.—124 deaths per million people, compared to 43 in the U.K., 42 in Sweden and 40 in the Netherlands.

Sivak and Luoma say that the average annual distance driven per capita in the U.S. is about twice that of the three European countries.

"The U.S. is a much larger country than any of the others," Luoma said. "Furthermore, land use and urban planning differ substantially between the U.S. and Europe. Most U.S. cities were designed in such a way that transportation depends heavily on personal vehicles."

However, the increased amount of driving in the U.S. does not fully account for the differences in road safety, the researchers say. Several methods that have likely contributed to better road safety in the U.K., Sweden and the Netherlands should be adopted in the U.S., as well, they add.

These include:

  • Lower limits, random breath testing and wider use of alcohol ignition interlocks.
  • Lower speed limits (especially in urban areas), special and compulsory speed limiters for heavy vehicles, and use of and/or intelligent speed adaptation.
  • Primary seat belt laws that cover both front and rear occupants and installation of advanced seat-belt reminders.
  • A policy focus on reducing overall fatalities, not on reducing the per distance driven.
  • New strategies to reduce distances driven by improving urban planning and encouraging more public transportation and telecommuting.
"The implementation of effective new countermeasures in the U.S. requires raising the awareness of the general public and of the decision makers concerning the much higher safety level in the best-performing countries and of the effectiveness of various countermeasures that have been implemented elsewhere," Sivak said. "The countermeasures to be recommended would lead to only limited restrictions on driver behavior or privacy, but would likely result in substantial benefits in terms of human life saved, suffering avoided and expenses reduced."

Explore further: More pedestrians killed during a new moon

Related Stories

Declining road fatalities: Less driving not the only cause

June 4, 2009

( -- Fewer Americans are dying on our nation's roads, not only because they are driving less, but also because the type of driving has changed, says a researcher at the University of Michigan Transportation Research ...

Women drivers outnumber men, but still drive less

December 14, 2012

Although women drivers now outnumber male motorists, men still account for the majority of the driving on America's roads—albeit at a declining rate, says a University of Michigan researcher.

Recommended for you

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2013
Most people know virtually nothing about driving. The worst drivers are always those who think they can talk on a cell phone or text while driving. Intelligent people never do these things while driving.I call it my instant IQ test. If you think you can do these things while driving, you are an idiot.
1 / 5 (2) Jan 17, 2013
If you think you can do these things while driving, you are an idiot.

Well, even though I don't drive, I do have an IQ measured at 190, and I read EVERY book in the school, and then read EVERY book at the library,,,, so I feel pretty sure that YOU are an idiot.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.