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

(PhysOrg.com) -- 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

Amateur paleontologist finds rare fossil of fish in Arizona

September 3, 2015

Growing up, Stephanie Leco often would dig in her backyard and imagine finding fossils of a tyrannosaurus rex. She was fascinated with the idea of holding something in her hand that was millions of years old and would give ...

X-rays reveal fossil secrets

September 3, 2015

A sophisticated imaging technique has allowed scientists to virtually peer inside a 10-million-year-old sea urchin, uncovering a treasure trove of hidden fossils.

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PeterD
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.
Q-Star
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.