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Why is the U.S. so poor with road safety?

There is a deep-rooted love affair between many in the U.S. and their cars. Despite the status of the American automobile, the road safety practices in the U.S. are not the best in the world. According to a compilation of the latest statistics, gathered in 2013, there were 32,894 deaths as a result of motor vehicle crashes.

This rate is down compared with the benchmark year 2000. That said, the death rate remains just above 10 deaths per 100,000 people. This places the U.K. below the 18 safest countries in the world. The data is based on figures analysed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC based their review on data provided by the World Health Organization.

Moreover, the U.S. lags behind the country just above it. Belgium, hovering above the U.S., has recorded 6.5 deaths per 100,000. The data only relates to so-called “high-income countries.”

There are other interesting findings from the data, as selected by Science News include:

Canada has the highest percentage of fatal crashes caused by drunk drivers for any country in the world, at 33.6 percent.
In joint second place for drunk driving are New Zealand and the U.S., both with 31 percent of all death.
With seat below use, the U.S. has a low record of compiling for front-seat drivers and passengers, standing at number 17, below both Canada and Belgium (to draw on two previously referenced countries.) Here the U.S. has a seat belt compliance level of 87 percent.

The country with the most improved crash death rate is Spain, which has seen a drop of 75 percent between 2000 and 2013. This tallied with a lower rate of drink-driving and a rise in seat belt wearing.

The results of the review are published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, in an article titled “Most high-income countries have managed to reduce their rate of motor vehicle deaths, from 2000 to 2013, but the U.S. and others have more work to do.” In offering some practical advice, CDC Injury Center (@CDCInjury) tweeted: “CDC will launch a Vital Signs abt our nation’s progress in road safety & how we can improve.”

The new figures also feed into the debates around driverless cars (or autonomous driverless vehicles.) Will these lower road traffic risks? If so, is the aim to protect the passenger or other road users? For example, if a driverless car is about to crash into a motorcyclist should the program be to avoid this even if the only other option is to swerve into a wall. Here the car could potentially kill the cyclist or the “driver.” These kind of moral dilemmas are in need of resolution.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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