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US has worst traffic accident death rate among high income countries

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i3799 (Published 07 July 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i3799
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. Seattle

The US could dramatically reduce the number of people killed each year in road traffic accidents if it adopted the safety practices of other high income countries, a new study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found.1

Currently more than 32 000 people in the US die in road traffic accidents a year and more than 2 million suffer non-fatal injuries.

CDC researchers analyzed data compiled by the World Health Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to determine the number and rate of motor vehicle crash deaths in the US and 19 other countries. They also looked at factors such as estimated seat belt use and deaths involving alcohol.

The researchers found that in 2013 the US had the highest road traffic accident death rate of the 19 countries, with a rate of 10.3 per 100 000 of the population. Sweden had the lowest rate at 2.7 per 100 000, followed by the UK with 2.8. The country with the second highest death rate was Belgium at 6.5 per 100 000.

Around a third of deaths (31%) in the US and New Zealand involved alcohol impaired driving. The US also ranked second worst for seatbelt use, with 87% of passengers using them, compared with an average of 94% across the other 19 countries.

The researchers said that if the US had a motor vehicle death rate equal to that of Belgium, the country with the second highest death rate, 12 000 fewer lives would have been lost in 2013. If the US had been equivalent to the average of the 19 comparison countries, at least 18 000 fewer lives would have been lost; and if its death rate had been equivalent to the best performing country, Sweden, at least 24 000 fewer lives would have been lost.

The researchers said, “Although it is difficult to identify and quantify the reasons for differences between the US and the comparison countries, differences in policies and their enforcement, use of advanced engineering and technology, and differences in public acceptance have all contributed to reducing death rates in the best performing countries.”

The researchers recommended that the US moved to bring its policies “in line with best practices.” These included the enforcement of seat belt and child safety seat use, discouraging alcohol impaired driving, and the promotion of the use of technologies, such as automated cameras for speed law enforcement.

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