Trend of decreasing traffic deaths might be coming to an end

September 28th, 2012 in Other Sciences / Social Sciences
Trend of decreasing traffic deaths may be ending

(Phys.org)—Traffic deaths have fallen dramatically since 2005, but estimates for 2012 suggest that the trend may be ending, says a University of Michigan researcher in a new report.

According to Michael Sivak, research professor at the U-M Transportation Research Institute, road fatalities dropped 26 percent from 2005 to 2011, but are up 8 percent over the first seven months of this year (based on estimates from the National Safety Council).

"After a recent peak of 43,500 fatalities in 2005, fatalities dropped to 32,300 in 2011," Sivak said. "The last time road fatalities were lower was in 1949 when, relative to 2011, we had only about 17 percent of the vehicles on the road and drove only about 14 percent of the miles. That is a remarkable reduction in fatalities."

Sivak said that while , federal regulators, driver-licensing agencies and public-interest groups have taken credit for the drop—and all have certainly contributed—there is another factor: the tepid economy.

"As a consequence of the , we have reduced the amount of driving, but not enough to fully account for the magnitude of the drop," he said. "However, we have also changed our patterns of driving.

"For example, we have been driving slower, partly to improve vehicle fuel economy. Further, we have reduced higher-risk exposure, such as leisure driving in rural areas, more so than lower-risk exposure, such as commuter driving in urban areas."

But the important aspect of is that they are temporary, he said. Once the economy picks up, these effects will disappear or be greatly reduced—in contrast to permanent effects of in vehicles and of regulatory actions, if enforcement is maintained.

Estimates of road fatalities produced by the National Safety Council, Sivak said, could be viewed as the "canary in the ."

"The economy is beginning to pick up," he said. "So what is the canary's behavior telling us now?"

NSC data for each of the first seven months show a large rise in road deaths, as compared with the number of fatalities during the same month last year. The increases in the individual months range from 5 percent to 14 percent, which is consistent with an estimated first-quarter increase of 13.5 percent by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Sivak offers several recommendations to policymakers in addressing the apparent reversal in road fatalities:

Provided by University of Michigan

"Trend of decreasing traffic deaths might be coming to an end." September 28th, 2012. http://phys.org/news/2012-09-trend-decreasing-traffic-deaths.html