By on September 21, 2010

Earlier this month, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that traffic fatalities and injuries reached an all-time low in 2009. Last year’s tally of 33,808 highway deaths represented the lowest figure on record since 1950, despite a small 0.2 percent increase in overall vehicle traffic. Many local officials have taken advantage of the positive trend by crediting benefits seen nationwide to particular public policies implemented locally. Federal officials likewise used the statistics to promote their own programs that encourage the issuance of traffic tickets.

“Today’s numbers reflect the tangible benefits of record seat belt use and strong anti-drunk driving enforcement campaigns,” said National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator (NHTSA) David Strickland said in a September 9 statement.

A more detailed NHTSA report calculated that the number of people killed per 100 million vehicle miles traveled dropped ten percent from 1.26 in 2008 to 1.13 in 2009. The highway injury rate dropped 6.3 percent from 79 to 74. Injury crashes dropped 6.9 percent and property-damage-only crashes dropped 4.6 percent. This document highlighted other factors responsible for the overall 5.3 percent accident decline.

“The reduction in total fatalities could be attributed to many factors such as the economy, unemployment, improvements in vehicle design, and highway safety programs,” the August Traffic Safety Facts Research Note explained.

In June, NHTSA released “An Analysis of the Significant Decline in Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities” which took a far more detailed look at the 2008 fatality data, digging deeper into the decline in the number of accidents since the 2005 peak of 43,510 deaths. The study used Census Bureau and National Automotive Sampling System General Estimates System figures to supplement the usual statistics from NHTSA’s own Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database. The report found the greatest reduction in fatal accidents happened among young drivers aged 16 to 24 and were figures consistent with figures seen in previous economic downturns.

“In the past, similar significant declines in fatalities were seen during the early 1980s and the early 1990s,” the report explained. “Both of these periods coincided with significant economic recessions in the United States. During both these time periods, fatalities in crashes involving younger drivers (16 to 24) declined significantly as compared to drivers in the other, older age groups…. Analyzing the FARS fatality data along with the national and local unemployment rates, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), showed that large fatality declines tended to coincide with areas that had higher increases in rates of unemployment.”

The study then examined unemployment rates in each major metropolitan area. Those with the largest increase in unemployment rate from 2007 to 2008 had the highest reduction in fatalities. Those with the least change in jobless figures saw the least change in fatalities. In Phoenix, Arizona for example, officials routinely credited the significant accident reduction taking place in the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metropolitan area to the statewide deployment of speed cameras that began in October 2008, and before that photo radar use on Scottsdale’s Loop 101 freeway and city streets throughout the region. During 2008, accidents dropped an impressive 31.5 percent. According to BLS data, however, the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area experienced the third-largest drop in employment in the country — 86,800 jobs. Other areas, such as Greenbay, Wisconsin and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina saw greater accident reductions, 52.6 percent and 47.7 percent respectively, even though photo enforcement is banned in both states.


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8 Comments on “Road Fatality Declines Tied To Local Unemployment...”

  • avatar

    The 2nd half of this article could have been plucked straight from the pages of Freakonomics or Super Freakonomics.  I love this stuff.  I wish someone would say this in the news followed by saying “anyone saying else wise is lying to you”.
    The misuse of statistics is forever annoying.

  • avatar

    All these Ray LaHood photos are getting kind of scary and they are not even Photoshop’d.   Just looking at him is kind of distracting.
    What happen to the days when Transportation Secretary made sure more highways were built and properly maintained?

  • avatar

    LaHood was interviewed by a local radio radio station last week. He sounded none-too-bright. He just kept repeating his mantra about distracted driving, apprently his personal crusade above all other DOT issues.

    It’s so discouraging that low calibre people like him make the big govt bucks and to-the-grave benefits wiothout being particularly well educated or talented.

  • avatar

    The general downward trend in the fatality rate is tied much more closely to vehicle safety improvements, and efforts against drunk driving.  Economics may only play a small local role.
    Put these same drivers in 1950-era cars and the fatality rate will skyrocket.

  • avatar

    Count the “logical fallacies” used by bureaucrats and the bureaucracies employing said parasitical bureaucratic vermin to explain the falling death/injury rates attributable to motor vehicle wrecks (those fallacies are legion and no one article/essay/report/etc. can or will contain them all.
    The bureaucrats want to cement their well-paid position (typically better rewarded than the average private sector worker) and do all possible to ensure the continued existence of their beloved bureaucracy.
    Count the fallacies!!!!!!!  The new, fun game for the entire family!!!! Fun for the kids, cousins, the guy sneaking into your daughter’s room at night, or day or perhaps who simply moved in and remained!!!!!
    Of course, bureaucrats can rewards their brethren, their kindred spirits in the world of “consulting”!!!!!!!!
    Looking forward to the day when they retire and want additional wealth and the private sector buddies made in the past OR when politicos departing office need easy wealth and enter the private sector to obtain their “earned” rewards various “studies” can and will be implemented to transfer taxpayer wealth to the group or firm conducting the “study” to determine the hows-and-whys of declining auto fatalities/injuries/collisions/etc. with little to no proof the results are even remotely related to reality but assuredly to meet the wants/needs of those handing over the taxpayer’s money who likely have a personal agenda to meet.
    Along with “finding the fallacies” engage the family unit in conducting your own study!!!!!
    How about the decline in accidents is due to folks having fewer funds so drive with extra care to avoid having to pay a deductible even if they DO have insurance?
    How about being unable to afford insurance for whatever reason so the driver takes a chance, plays the odds, and just drives as little as possible and with extra care?
    A multitude of possible reasons!!! Create your own list!!! Make up your own rules for hours of family fun!!!
    Combine the fun with physical activity!!!! Have the family unit walk to a nearby busy intersection and sit to the side, observing the traffic flow. Observe good and bad driving!!!! Watch the hours pass by as you perform your own study!!!
    Heck, concoct a creative high-falutin’ name for your family unit, amass your observations, and attempt to peddle your results for some of that taxpayer money!!!!!!!!!!
    Why not?
    You’re likely fully or partially unemployed so why not become a part of the parasitical class and suck at the taxpayer teat!!!!!

  • avatar

    Another factor is what is considered to be a “fatality” — dead on the scene or months later?  Seat belt laws, airbags, ABS, ESP etc. all help to reduce deaths at the time of the accident. More cell phones, EMTs, flight for life helicopters and trama centers reduce deaths after the fact. You can correlate any of the above factors and draw any conclusions you want.


  • avatar

    Another factor is what is considered to be a “fatality” — dead on the scene or months later?  Seat belt laws, airbags, ABS, ESP etc. all help to reduce deaths at the time of the accident. More cell phones, EMTs, flight for life helicopters and trama centers reduce deaths after the fact. You can correlate any of the above factors and draw any conclusions you want.”
    Excellent well-thought-out possibility…. conjecture.
    Likely at least partially responsible.
    Read elsewhere awhile back that some of today’s “safety devices” installed in and upon cars that drivers are aware of actually nullify a certain amount of safe-oriented hands-on driving style due to SOME folks relying upon the vehicle to “protect them.”
    I am unable to ascertain the veracity of that declaration but while concocting a “study” within the shanty’s “clinic” that will be tendered to the local taxpayer-dollar-tenderers who cares about fallacies or deceptions or pure unadulterated logic!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar

    I could care less what LaHood says but this OnStar/Facebook stupidity really bothers me:
    Where will this fit into future crash stats?

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