By on September 10, 2010


Yes, despite the ever-present dangers of distracted driving and demonically-possessed Toyotas, US highways are safer than ever [full PDF report here]. Overall deaths in 2009 were at their lowest levels since 1950, even as vehicle miles traveled increased. Highway fatalities have been falling for the past four years, and in 2009 even motorcycle fatalities decreased for the first time in 11 years. At 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2009, fatalities per VMT fell to another all-time low. Why? It could be the market-fueled arms race to stuff ever more standard safety equipment into cars, or incessant pressure on OEMs from the IIHS (and its ilk)… or, if you’re Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, you might think that

the weak economy was a contributing factor as many Americans chose not to go out to bars and restaurants after work or on the weekend.

Yes, the man tasked with keeping our highway safe believes that his ongoing success is the product of Americans moping around the house because of a down economy. Even though VMT actually increased by .2 percent over 2008. In other words, despite “talking about safety more than anyone in Washington,” Ray LaHood is both clueless about the data, and convinced that a weak economy helps his crusade. Which makes you wonder what the man means when he says

While we’ve come a long way, we have a long distance yet to travel.

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43 Comments on “Ray LaHood: America Is Safer Because Nobody Is Having Fun...”


  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    You also failed to mention a demonically-possessed White House

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Ray THEhood comes from the Chicago political training fields.

    Why do you keep reminding me he is in Obama’s circle!?

    These medications are costing more and more. But I am finding my doctor is wrong…they actually work BETTER with scotch.

    By the way, take a trip on Illinois roadways.
    You will see why he was put in this position. Illinois roads are spectacular!

    • 0 avatar
      V572625694

      Not to defend La Hood, who is a dolt, but he came from downstate Illinois–a very different place from Chicago. And he’s a Republican. SecTrans is the designated cabinet spot for your opposite-party nod to bipartisanship. Everybody loves federal highway pork.

    • 0 avatar
      CamaroKid

      LOL, that was my first thought… Ray Lahood is a REPUBLICAN! It is frustrating when facts get in the way of a good political rant. He actually  presided over the impeachment vote against President Bill Clinton… Whats next? Robert Gates is some sort of pinko socialist?

    • 0 avatar

      “Ray Lahood is a REPUBLICAN!”

      Cronyism knows no one political party. By using his office to publicly ravage a competitor to two government-owned automakers, DaHood has forever associated his legacy with so many other Chicagoland punks and thugs. It just so happens that most others in that category are/have been Democrats.

      And that’s really sad. In his time at DOT, DaHood has actually made a number of positive contributions to aviation, a matter dear to my heart… but his vigilante stance against Toyota has left me highly doubtful of his competency and loyalties as a whole. Overall, I think he’s garbage.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      When did I EVER mention the party?
      In Illinois politics, NOTHING has to do with party…only loyalty and graft.
      We have two recent governors, one in jail and one about to join him…both republicans.
      But if you are from Illinois, you know NOTHING gets done in the state without the Chicago connection and patronage.
      Do you know about Chicago/Illinois politics?
      Do you know how Rod Blagojevich  got elected…with downstate power plays?
      ThrHood is from down state as you reminded all.
      Or are you caught in the good party bad party line of thought?

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      Those who highlight party affiliation as if it is some sort of counterargument miss the point. If you (as a US denizen at least) think that either party has had your interests at heart the past couple of decades, you haven’t been paying attention.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Work from home, order takeout and never meet anyone in person (use Skype). Then you’re sure never to die on the roads.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      Reminds me of my cat (who spends about 90% of his time outside by choice) that everytime I take him to the vet I hear atleast ten times how much safer he would be as just an inside cat and I finally say “well yes, so would you or I, but life wouldn’t be very much fun that way”.  Same applies to these orginizations and us, they are instiutions and institutions have to feed themselves to live (kindof like HR and work, if you’ve ever been to an HR seminar, if you actually tried to implement 80% of the stuff they tell you that you have to be doing you would spend more time on HR tip-toeing around your employees vs. actually managing the business)

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      But someone texting while driving might run off of the road and crash into your living room.

  • avatar

    my recollection is that bars do well in a bad economy. The bottom line: more safer cars get put on the road every year, and more older, less safe cars go to the wrecker.
    And, yeah, better with scotch (or whiskey or bourbon)

  • avatar
    jimble

    I’m not sure if LaHood’s point is that people are driving less or drinking and driving less. US population increased just shy of 1% between 2008 and 2009. If vehicle miles traveled only increased 0.2%, miles driven per person declined. There’s definitely a downward trend in driving and the economy is the most likely reason for that. Who’s clueless about the data?

    • 0 avatar

      Who cares if per capita VMT is down? There’s no link between the fatalities per VMT and per capita VMT that I can find. Why would it matter how many people travel x miles if the the number of fatalities per x is constant or decreasing?
      LaHood isn’t claiming that we’re safer because people are driving less on an individual basis… he’s claiming that we’re safer because we’re taking fewer trips to bars and restaurants. Perhaps I should have mentioned that alcohol-impaired fatalities were down 7.5 percent but “restraint not used” fatalities were down 11 percent? Also, the number of crashes was down 5 percent, but fatal crashes were down 10 percent. I don’t see how the bad economy can take credit for any of that.

    • 0 avatar
      jimble

      Ed, you’re the one who pointed out that total mileage was up 0.2%, as if that somehow disproved LaHood’s point. LaHood’s “crusade” is to reduce the number of people being killed and maimed on the highways, and reducing the number of miles driven per person absolutely contributes to that.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

       

      jimble

      TheHoods crusade is not to do anything more than to control your lifestyle and extract as much money from you as possible.
      He, and the administration he works for, will take any number, any statistic to twist it  and allow for this.
      As one of his fellow administration pals Rahm Emanuel so proudly has warned, Never Let A Crisis Go To Waste.
      Global Warming…sneak in tax breaks and loans for friendly industries and pals.
      The gulf oil crisis…sneak in Cap n Trade.
      You can go on and on….THIS is the real agenda.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      In other words, the administration views you as a Tax-Revenue Appliance. Go to work, generate income, go home, render your gold unto Caesar, and await further instructions from the Planning Apparatchik.

  • avatar
    segfault

    Looks like injuries and the number of crashes are down from 2008, as well.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    The “Cash for Clunkers” program got a bunch of light trucks off the roads.  Since only fairly recent models qualified, the ones off the roads probably would have racked up a lot of miles.

  • avatar
    210delray

    It has been postulated that highway fatalities are tied to the business cycle.  You can see this in the graph — for the recessions of 1974-75, 1981-82, and 1991-92, but paradoxically not for the recession of 2000-02.  Other factors were in play during the first two: in 1974-75 a temporary reduction in the availablity of fuel (and resulting higher prices) and the lowering of highway speed limits; in 1981-82 a large spike in the price of fuel and the imposition of tougher drunk-driving laws as MADD became influential.  The recent economic meltdown is concurrent with a dramatic drop in highway fatalites.

    We shall see whether the ongoing, albeit slow, economic recovery will mean an increase in deaths again.  Hopefully not, as seat belt use is well over 90% in some states, frontal airbags are now nearly universal in the fleet, side airbags essentially became standard in the 2010 model year, and electronic stability control (which will be required as of the 2012 model year) has been shown to markedly reduce single-vehicle fatal crashes.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The 55 mph speed limit had nothing to do with the decline in fatalities in 1974. Fatalities dropped in early 1974, when people were still spooked by the gasoline shortage, sparked by the Arab Oil Embargo in the fall of 1973. 

      In October 1973, the fatality rate was 4.4 per 100 million miles driven. By February 1974 – one month before the nationwide impostion of the 55 mph speed limit – the fatality rate had fallen to a little over 3. The new speed limit was imposed in March 1974, and the fatality rate ROSE to almost 4 by November. It was HIGHER in December 1974 (when the speed limit was in effect) than in December 1973 (when it wasn’t).

      Also note that fatalities dropped dramatically in 2008, when the speed limit was not changed. (Some states, such as Texas and Utah, had even increased their speed limits to 80 mph on selected stretches of road during that time.)

    • 0 avatar
      210delray

      I knew someone would bring up the speed limit controversy.  Not coincidentially, you and I have clashed on this many times on other forums.  The best scientific (peer-reviewed) evidence is that the universal lowering of highway speed limits did contribute to about 1/3 of the lives saved in the years immediately following the much-reviled 55 mph limit.  I know driving enthusiasts don’t want to accept it, just like the climate change deniers.

      Besides, look at the graph again. The fatality rate dropped sharply between entire-year 1973 and entire-year 1974. The oil embargo started in October ’73 and was lifted 6 months later. Note though that the fatality rate continued to drop for 1975 and 1976, long after the oil spigots were back on and the economy was recovering. It wasn’t until later in the decade that the rate started to go up slightly.

      But let’s not drag this out, and just agree to disagree.  And hey, I didn’t like driving at 55 either!  PA seems to be one of the holdouts besides NY that still doggedly applies this limit on highways that would be posted at 65 or 70 mph in neighboring states.  I’m glad I no longer live in my native state.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Only problem is that the death rate was dropping BEFORE we imposed the 55 mph speed limit, and ROSE after it was imposed (although it dropped for the entire year). Since the 1920s, the fatality has fallen three percent annually. 

      Real-world experience has shown that reducing limits has no effects on fatality rates. Recent speed limit increases in Texas and Utah, and the experience with the 55 mph speed limit, show the fallacy of the “speed kills” mantra. (For that matter, reputable research has shown that reducing speed limits has little, if any, effect on speeds traveled in the real world.)

      And I wouldn’t touch the manmade climate change issue, considering that the evidence that “proves” it is happening is now melting away faster than those polar ice caps supposedly were.

  • avatar
    aspade

    It’s not that people are driving less miles.  It’s which people are driving less miles.
    There are a lot of young men without jobs or gas money this year.
     

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    I guess they need to emphasise the few bright spots of this economic mess we’re in.

  • avatar
    twotone

    The 2010 fatality rate is 1.1 per 100M passenger miles driven. Considering 15,000 average annual miles per driver, you’d have to drive for 6,600 years before dying in a car crash. Too dangerous? Try flying 15,000 mile per year. It would take 135,000 years before dying in a plane crash.

    Car wrecks make front page news especially when some drunk running a stop sign in a pickup kills a family of four in a fiery car crash. Plane crashes make better news. Neither happend very often nor kill that many people statistically.

    Twotone

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      US population is about 300 million.  If the average person lives to be 75 years old, they will have about a 1 in 118 chance of dying in a car crash.  IMO, that is too high.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      I don’t know how one decides what levels are or are not acceptable, but your math is in error.

      If 34,000 out of 300,000,000 die each year, that’s a 0.011% (or if you prefer, 1 in 900) chance of dying each year. That is 77 times lower than the rate you’ve figured, because your chances stay the same year after year. What you’ve done is multiply the 34,000 who die by the number of years one person survives and ignored the fact that the whole rest of the population also survives, so the ratio would remain the same.

      And in fact, if our population continues to grow at a greater rate than we lose people through car wrecks, then for the purposes of this discussion your chances continue to improve over time. (Though the impact of this point is so microscopic that it’s really just a statistical technicality.)

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      I stand by my original statement.  At the current fatality rate, one has a 1 in 118 chance of dying in a car crash during one’s lifetime.  Chance of dying each year times life expectancy equals chance said event will kill you.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      Let’s look at your chances of NOT dying in a car accident in any given year, using 300mm people and 34k deaths per year. It looks like (8822.5/8823.5). Over an 80 year life span your chances of not dying in a car accident would then be (8822.5/8823.5)^^80 or 99.1%. One chance in 111 of dying. A little perturbation in the population assumed gets you the 1 in 114.
      I’m much more concerned about having a 1 chance in 1 of dying of something in 80 years, dammit.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Like racing, I think we see more accidents, but due to technology fewer are dieing. Any other suggestion as to why are politically motivated.

  • avatar
    windswords

    “While we’ve come a long way, we have a long distance yet to travel.”
    Yea, you will ALWAYS have a long distance to travel because if you ever said “hey were good” you would be out of job. So cars can never get enough mileage, not pollute enough, and never be safe enough for government bureaucracies.

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    It’s always fun to see people argue about cause and effect. Intuitively, we humans always believe two distinct but related logical fallacies.
     
    First, the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. That is, because an effect occurs after a supposed cause, the cause caused the effect. That seems logical. It’s not.
     
    Second, the fallacy that correlation equals causation. That too seems logical. It too is wrong. Correlation is not causation. Instead, empirically observed covariation is a necessary but not sufficient condition for causality.
     
    Did any of the causes Ray LaHood cites actually cause the effect of the drop in highway deaths? You can argue either way. But we’ll never know. We can’t know. There’s no way to tell.

    • 0 avatar

      Good points. My problem isn’t that LaHood is wrong per se… it’s his attitude that I find troubling. We already know that automotive safety often trades off with fuel efficiency… LaHood is implying that our overall economic health (as measured in trips to bars and restaurants) trades off with safety as well. If he’s right and he believes that “one fatality is too many” (another line from his Toyota testimony), what should we expect from his leadership? It signals a single-mindedness that’s more than a little troubling, especially in light of increasing safety regulations and fuel economy standards. Should the inevitable cost increases of doing both just be passed along to the consumer? Because if it means fewer cars sold and fewer miles driven, it seems clear to me that LaHood’s answer would be in the affirmative. The man clearly thinks that “safety” exists in a vacuum, and that’s troubling because it doesn’t.
       

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      It’s the combination of regulations and competitive market-driven features that have improved safety.  All the other causes are noise, IMO.
       
      If you put every driver back into a 1950 Chevy or a 1970 Skylark, the fatality rate would skyrocket.
       
      This is an area in which I support sensible government regulation, as manufacturers are only marginally and periodically motivated to make improvements themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      It’s the combination of regulations and competitive market-driven features that have improved safety.  All the other causes are noise, IMO.

      If you put every driver back into a 1950 Chevy or a 1970 Skylark, the fatality rate would skyrocket.

      This is an area in which I support sensible government regulation, as manufacturers are only marginally and periodically motivated to make improvements themselves.
       
      100% correct.  When I jump into my ’72 Fury and go for a drive, it amazes me that I didn’t kill myself.  Even my ’90s era stuff is a significant step behind today’s vehicles.  So, without question, the hardware is much better dynamically…just compare today’s brake performance to the cars of yesteryear (with a few exceptions).  Now add the regulation-driven safety requirements, it is no wonder that the mileage corrected death rate (the only number that really matters) continues to decline despite rollover prone vehicles, texting, cell use, etc.  Throw in the increase in seat belt use and the decline in drunk driving, and the trend is clear: The positive forces that are added to the mix are outnumbering the negative ones, pure and simple.  The economy might be responsible for lowering the miles travelled for the more accident prone set, but it does not matter for the long term trend.  As long as cars keep getting better the numbers will trend downward.  That is why it is important to keep the pressure on for incrementally improving over the long haul.  Who cares if the improvements are government driven, consumer driven, or by magic.  We are all safer for it.   BTW, speed doesn’t kill, irresponsible speed does…and 80 in the interstate is not irresponsible in my opinion…
       

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      I don’t believe that the mileage-corrected death rate is the only one that matters.  People now drive more miles per year than they did decades ago, and this cancels out some of the effect of safer roads and vehicles.  The book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt has an excellent discussion of risk homeostasis.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      Edward N said
      My problem isn’t that LaHood is wrong per se… it’s his attitude that I find troubling.

      Now, Ed, you know our DC masters know what’s best, for us all. Move along, that’s a good chap.
      It is troubling that the EPA, NHTSA and other agencies all seem to have their own primary agenda which can be at odds with the others. Do they coordinate at all?

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    It’d be interesting to see graph comparing fatalities per VMT by states. And by countries.

  • avatar
    shiney2


    This is a meaningless rant. Its a dumb quote, but hardly worth wasting time over, and not necessarily entirely wrong – at least if his intent was to say drinking and driving was down.
    You point out that “alcohol-impaired fatalities were down 7.5 percent but “restraint not used” fatalities were down 11 percent? Also, the number of crashes was down 5 percent, but fatal crashes were down 10 percent”. Perhaps that means sober people are more likely to wear restraints and less likely to have fatal crashes?
     

  • avatar
    AaronH

    Just another great reason to destroy American prosperity…Eh LaHood?
    Voters are too stupid to be free.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    This piece is a classic example of taking one statement out of context and turning it into meaning something entirely different. If you actually read what LaHood said, he certainly was not saying that a weak economy is a good thing, only that it is one of the many factors which influenced to the results. Here is a little more of the original article.
    ” LaHood said the weak economy was a contributing factor as many Americans chose not to go out to bars and restaurants after work or on the weekend.
    But he said many motorists are more safety conscious behind the wheel. About 85 percent of Americans wear seat belts while benefiting from safety advances found in today’s cars and trucks.
    Side air bags that protect the head and midsection are becoming standard equipment on many new vehicles. Electronic stability control, which helps motorists avoid rollover crashes, is more common on new cars and trucks, while some luxury models have lane departure warnings and other safety features.”
     

    Oh, and by the way, 34,000 people still lost their lives in auto accidents in the US last year. About eleven times the number who died in the infamous 9/11/01 terrorist attacks.


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