As a follow up to yesterday’s blog post on the trade barriers to European automobiles, let’s dig into the traffic fatality statistics. The whole point of these trade barriers, after all, is to prevent Americans from driving “unsafe” automobiles. We should expect to find a huge improvement in US road safety, relative to foreigners, right? Especially given that “record” decline last year in annual highway fatalities.
This graph comes from a 2006 paper by General Motors safety researcher Leonard Evans, titled (appropriately) The Dramatic Failure of US Traffic Safety Policy (“TR News”, Jan-Feb 2006).
Evans examined the overall safety trend beginning in 1979. Some may notice the graph stops at the year 2002. Taking into account the “record” decline last year, the US is still doing poorly. The 2009 normalized value is 66, well above the level other countries achieved back in 2002. The trend has not gotten any better.
Evans hypothesizes US traffic safety policies began to diverge from those of Europe starting in the late 1970’s. Instead of accident avoidance, America’s approach shifted to technological gimmicks (air bags, etc), and roadway improvement. The result has been catastrophic in terms of injury and loss of life. If the US had matched Britain’s declines, there would now be 10,000 fewer annual fatalities.
The graph above only measures total fatalities — could this just be a consequence of increasing VMT? Not according to Evans. Here is the graph of fatalities per VMT:
The obvious conclusion is that Federal traffic policy has not only prevented the sale of fuel efficient cars, it is killing tens of thousands of Americans.