- Safer than ever? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Today transportation folks are celebrating some big and truly good news — the 2010 nationwide traffic fatalities are the lowest they've been in more than half a century.
"National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland and I are pleased to report that, last year, roadway fatalities and injuries fell to their lowest rates ever – and to their lowest numbers since 1949," writes U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. The data is collected in the NHTSA report on 2010 traffic fatalities, which collects the 2009 and 2010 stats for all U.S. states and the District.
According to the report, 24 people died in traffic incidents in 2010 in the District of Columbia compared to 29 in 2009 — a drop of 17%.
Okay. That sounds good enough. Good, at least, until you go the D.C. police department's website and see that the District has recorded 31 traffic fatalities so far in 2011, higher than either of the 2009 or 2010 numbers that the U.S. government is reporting. At this time last year, only 20 people had died, meaning that our traffic fatalities here have increased by more than 50% this year so far. The numbers also don't completely match. The local police report notes that 33 people died in traffic in 2009, not 29 as the federal report says, and that 25 people died in traffic in 2010, not 24. That's still a reduction when looking at 2009 and 2010 but these numbers represent people's lives and the specifics do matter — and should be examined before mindlessly cheerleading our great transportation safety enhancements.
That said, the U.S. Department of Transportation is correct to point to the broad trend in dropping traffic fatalities. The D.C. police have statistics going back to 1995, when 62 people died. These numbers stayed high right after, peaking with 72 deaths in 2001, and only really began falling around 2004 or so and more dramatically in the past three years. Speaking broadly, our roads truly are much safer than they were a decade ago, although we should continue to exercise all caution on our increasingly crowded lanes.
I look forward to seeing the numbers continue to drop, especially as new technology enters the picture. The government is in the midst of prepping some talking cars, for instance, that may have dramatic effects if they end up federally mandated in 2013. If you're curious to see where these traffic fatalities happened, check out this interactive map of the District's transportation deaths of the last decade. You can zoom in and see just where vehicle occupants, bicyclists, and pedestrians died from 2001 to 2009. That's as good a reminder as any that we should all be careful out there.
I examined the federal data analysis of traffic fatalities for the 2009 data (separate from this new report) and discovered the top 13 factors that caused fatal crashes, which seems relevant to this discussion.
13 Factors That Caused America's Fatal Crashes in 2009
Listed are the fatal factor, the number of peopled killed in 2009, and the percentage of deaths this factor represents.
1. Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted speed limit, 9,654 deaths, 21.3% of fatal crashes
2. Failure to keep in proper lane, 7,696, 17.0%
3. Under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication, 6,957, 15.4%
4. Inattentive (talking, eating, etc.), 4,196, 9.3%
5. Failure to yield right of way, 3,067, 6.8%
6. Overcorrecting/oversteering, 2,062, 4.6%
7. Failure to obey traffic signs, signals, or officer, 1,922, 4.2%
8. Swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surface, vehicle, object, nonmotorist in roadway, etc., 1,801, 4.0%
9. Driving wrong way on one-way trafficway or on wrong side of road, 1,382, 3.1%
10. Operating vehicle in erratic, reckless, careless, or negligent manner, 1,347, 3.0%
11. Vision obscured (rain, snow, glare, lights, building, trees, etc.), 1,205, 2.7%
12. Drowsy, asleep, fatigued, ill, or blackout, 1,202, 2.7%
13. Making improper turn, 1,168, 2.6%