Per Capita Death Tolls in the USA

 

State by State

 

2003

 

(Announced in August 2004)

 

 

All contents copyright , Drive and Stay Alive, Inc., 2003 onwards, unless specified otherwise. All rights reserved.

 

IMPORTANT: click here to read the DISCLAIMER


 

An article by Eddie Wren, Executive Director, Drive and Stay Alive, Inc.

(Posted August 13, 2004;  last revised August 14, 2004)

 

For the second successive year, Drive and Stay Alive is bringing you an important, alternative way to look at the death toll on America's roads.

 

 

Also, click here for an example of how VMT death rates can be very misleading.

 

The U.S. Government and its various bodies almost inevitably use the method of measurement known as 'VMT' (which is the number of people killed in road crashes for every 100 million Vehicle Miles Traveled, collectively, by all the registered motor vehicles in America).

 

VMT is a perfectly valid means of measuring relative changes in death rates but it does have one debatable flaw: It is measured not only against a continually changing parameter but also the total mileage figure that is needed is known only to the relevant official bodies and is therefore open to accusations of manipulation, as follows:

 

 Extract from the DSA Road Safety in the News web page

 

  August 12, 2004:  Not Everybody Believes the NHTSA Figures

     ...It is so difficult to achieve a drop in overall highway fatalities in the face of increased driving and a greater use of less stable vehicles that some experts are doubtful. After reviewing the NHTSA report on a flight back from California, Clarence Ditlow concluded: "This agency is cooking the numbers to make it look like they've accomplished something" before an election. [Ditlow is] the director of the Center for Automotive Safety, a private agency founded by Ralph Nader."...

[Source: The Christian Science Monitor]

 

 

 

     The [vehicle safety] progress comes at a time of consumer ambivalence, with many drivers mindful of safety features but not eager to pay more money for them...

     "It's very difficult to move this huge needle," says NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson. "And this is a big reduction."

[Source: The Christian Science Monitor]

 

DSA Comment:  With respect, if a 0.03 cut in the VMT rate, from 1.51 to 1.48, is a "big reduction" this does not bode well for the DOT target of getting the rate down to 1.00 by 2008.

 

VMT figures can also be rather misleading. For example, the US Department Of Transportation has a target of reducing the VMT death rate to 1.0 by 2008 and this sounds good, but it is quite possible to reduce the VMT rate, over time, even though the actual number of people killed might remain constant, or even rise. For example, in 1992  39,250 people were killed and the VMT rate was 1.75.  Yet in 2003, even though the actual number of people killed had risen by almost nine percent, to 42,643, the VMT rate was down by over fifteen percent, to 1.48.   

[VMT data source here, from the Detroit News and NHTSA]

 

By comparison, many countries -- mostly in Europe -- have targets to reduce the actual number of people killed by 50 percent, rather than just seeking a lower rate of deaths. One of the reasons is that the latter option might not represent any reduction in the number of people killed each year, whatsoever. Many of those other 

countries have already succeeded in significantly reducing the number of people killed each year so the argument in America that lowering the actual number is not feasible is very questionable, especially in light of the fact that in 2003, seven states had a reduction in deaths of 10-15%.

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In international circles, the more commonly used method of measuring the problem is known as the per capita death rate: the number of people killed relative to every 100,000 members of the population. This, too, is measured against a moving target -- the rise in the population each year -- but we would argue that not only is this method more understandable to ordinary people but it is also the preferred international method and should therefore be quoted alongside VMT figures.

 

Accordingly, we have two tables for you to view.

 

The first shows the per capita death rate for each American state, including the good progress shown by seven states in particular: Connecticut, Washington (n.b. for non-US readers, that is Washington State, not Washington D.C.), Ohio, Vermont, Colorado, Oklahoma and West Virginia, all of which witnessed a reduction in their fatality rate of between 8-14 percent.

 

These results closely echo the percentage reduction in deaths, as published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the left-hand column in the table below shows what effect they have had on these states' relative achievements. Connecticut, for example, halved its position, from sixth to third, and Vermont has leapt from twentieth to eleventh.

 

Because there are so many intertwined causative factors for road crashes and the resultant casualties, it can be very difficult to determine the precise reasons for changes in crash and casualty rates. But big improvements such as these rarely occur for no ascertainable reason so there has undoubtedly been much good work done by law enforcement and road safety agencies in these seven states in particular.

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Table 1

The Per Capita Death Rate  for Each American State - 2003

 

Position

2003 (2002)

State

Population

(millions) 1

Road Deaths

2003 2

Rate

2002 3, 4

Rate

2003 3

  1      (  1)

Massachusetts

  6.4

462

  7.17

  7.22

  2      (  3)

New York

19.2

1,491

  7.93

  7.77

  3      (  6)

Connecticut

  3.5

294

  9.2

  8.40

  4      (  5)

New Jersey

  8.64

747

  8.95

  8.65

  5      (  2)

Rhode Island

  1.08

104

  7.77

  9.63

  6=    (  8)

New Hampshire

  1.29

127

  9.84

  9.84

  6=    (  9)

Washington

  6.1

600

10.80

  9.84

  8      (  7)

Hawaii

  1.26

135

  9.4

10.71

  9      (16)

Ohio

11.44

1,277

12.40

11.16

10      (10)

Illinois

12.65

1,453

11.15

11.49

11      (20)

Vermont

  0.6

69

13.00

11.50

12      (13)

Maryland

  5.5

649

11.98

11.80

13      (11)

California

35.5

4,215

11.49

11.87

14      (  4)

District of Columbia

  0.56

67

  8.4

11.97

15      (12)

Michigan

10.08

1,283

11.73

12.73

16      (21)

Pennsylvania

12.37

1,577

13.05

12.75

17      (15)

Virginia

  7.39

943

12.37

12.76

18      (19)

Minnesota

  5.06

657

12.98

12.98

19      (23)

Utah

  2.35

309

13.96

13.15

20      (18)

Indiana

  6.2

834

12.77

13.45

21      (27)

Colorado

  4.56

632

16.1

13.86

22      (14)

Oregon

  3.56

512

12.25

14.38

23      (17)

Alaska

  0.65

95

12.43

14.62

24      (22)

Iowa

  2.94

441

13.74

15.00

25      (24)

Wisconsin

  5.47

848

14.68

15.50

26      (28)

Maine

  1.3

207

16.62

15.92

27      (30)

Nevada

  2.24

368

17.01

16.43

28      (29)

Texas

22.1

3,675

16.86

16.63

29      (25)

North Dakota

  0.63

105

15.40

16.67

30      (32)

Nebraska

  1.74

293

17.64

16.84

31      (35)

Kansas

  2.7

471

18.96

17.44

32      (26)

Delaware

  0.8

142

15.5

17.75

33      (34)

North Carolina

  8.4

1,531

18.75

18.23

34      (31)

Georgia

  8.7

1,603

17.5

18.43

35      (33)

Florida

17.0

3,169

18.4

18.64

36      (40)

Oklahoma

  3.5

668

20.97

19.09

37      (37)

Louisiana

  4.5

894

19.44

19.87

38      (38)

Arizona

  5.6

1,120

19.9

20.00

39      (39)

Tennessee

  5.8

1,193

20.26

20.57

40      (36)

Idaho

  1.37

293

19.27

21.39

41      (41)

Missouri

  5.7

1,232

21.19

21.61

42      (43)

Alabama

  4.6

1,001

22.46

21.76

43      (47)

West Virginia

  1.8

394

24.39

21.89

44      (42)

Kentucky

  4.1

928

22.32

22.63

45      (45)

Arkansas

  2.7

627

23.7

23.22

46      (46)

New Mexico

  1.88

439

23.88

23.35

47      (48)

South Carolina

  4.1

968

25.68

23.61

48      (44)

South Dakota

  0.76

203

23.68

26.71

49      (49)

Montana

  0.92

262

29.35

28.48

50      (50)

Mississippi

  2.88

871

30.73

30.24

51      (51)

Wyoming

  0.5

165

35.20

33.00

----------------

USA National Total

 

42,643

14.9 5

 

Copyright , Drive and Stay Alive, Inc., 2004

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Explanatory Notes

1.   Source: US Census Bureau, figures for July 2003

2.   Source: NHTSA Press Release 35-04, August 10, 2004

3.   The number of deaths for each 100,000 population -- known as the per capita rate;

4.   Source: Drive and Stay Alive, Inc. -- viewable here

5.   Source: International Traffic and Accidents Database (IRTAD) -- for 2002

 

 

 

"America's leadership in highway safety is not yet established but we're going in the right direction."
From a statement by NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman Conners  on the decrease in highway fatality injuries 
in 2003.  National Transportation Safety Board press release SB-04-23, August 12, 2004.

 

 

Our second table has been created to reinforce the Drive and Stay Alive suggestion that the USA could benefit greatly from looking more to other countries for ideas and methods that would help reduce America's excessive, annual road death toll.

It is a commonly held belief in the USA -- even among experts -- that the country is actually among the global leaders in terms of road safety.

 

 

"...The fatality rate of drivers in the United States is far better than any other country. You know, sometimes we don't step back and look at our successes. Even though our fatality rate is much better than any other country, it's not satisfactory to us."

Dr. Allen Robinson -- director of and professor in the Highway Safety Center at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, [and] ... the Chief Executive Officer of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association (ADTSEA) -- speaking at the NTSB 'Public Forum on Driver Education and Training,' Washington D.C., October 28-29, 2003. [Transcript of conference here -- page 32.]

 

 

It is the DSA standpoint, however, that while America deservedly leads the world in many different fields and disciplines, road safety is regrettably and categorically not one of them. See the table below. We make this point not to antagonize anyone but to highlight the fact that erroneous suggestions that the USA is doing well, when it so clearly is not, will serve only to encourage apathy when the opposite sentiment is needed.

 

It is important, in this context, to add that when comparing international VMT rates -- as opposed to per capita rates -- the USA lies in tenth position among twenty-four countries [IRTAD, 2002 data].

 

In the second table, the individual states of America have been shown mixed together with all of the countries from the IRTAD database in order to show comparative, per capita performance on a broader scale. Apart from the USA having only three countries from thirty with a worse per capita rate, it can also be seen that almost one third of all American states have an even higher death rate than the worst of those thirty countries.

 

VMT Tip

     To convert deaths per one billion vehicle kilometres to deaths per one hundred million vehicle miles traveled, divide the km figure by 6.214.

     To reverse the calculation, multiply the miles figure by the same factor.

 

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Table 2 

Per Capita Road Death Toll

Comparing IRTAD Countries (2002)

With Each American State (2003)

 

Country Position

Country or State

Rate a

  1

Sweden

  6.0

  2

UK

  6.1

  3

Netherlands

  6.1

  4

Norway

  6.9

  5

Switzerland

  7.1

 

Massachusetts

  7.22

  6

Japan

  7.5

 

New York

  7.77

  7

Finland

  8.0

  8

Germany

  8.3

 

Connecticut

  8.40

9

Denmark

  8.6

 

New Jersey

  8.65

10

Australia

  8.8

11

Canada

  9.3

12

Ireland

  9.6

 

Rhode Island

  9.63

 

New Hampshire

  9.84

 

Washington

  9.84

13

Iceland

10.1

14

New Zealand

10.3

 

Hawaii

10.71

 

Ohio

11.16

15

Slovak Republic

11.3

 

Illinois

11.49

 

Vermont

11.50

16

Italy

11.7

 

Maryland

11.80

 

California

11.87

17

Austria

11.9

 

District of Columbia

11.97

 

Michigan

12.73

 

Pennsylvania

12.75

 

Virginia

12.76

18

France

12.9

 

Minnesota

12.98

 

Utah

13.15

19

Spain

13.2

 

Indiana

13.45

20

Slovenia

13.7

 

Colorado

13.86

21

Czech Republic

14.0

22

Hungary

14.0

23

Luxembourg 

14.0

24

Turkey

14.0b

 

Oregon

14.38

25

Belgium

14.5

 

Alaska

14.62

  26=

USA  (overall figure)

14.9

  26=

Republic of Korea

14.9

 

Iowa

15.00

28

Poland

15.3

 

Wisconsin

15.50

 

Maine

15.92

29

Portugal      [see note 'a']

16.1c

 

Nevada

16.43

 

Texas

16.63

 

North Dakota

16.67

 

Nebraska

16.84

 

Kansas

17.44

 

Delaware

17.75

 

North Carolina

18.23

 

Georgia

18.43

 

Florida

18.64

 

Oklahoma

19.09

30

Greece        [see note 'a']

19.3

 

Louisiana

19.87

 

Arizona

20.00

 

Tennessee

20.57

 

Idaho

21.39

 

Missouri

21.61

 

Alabama

21.76

 

West Virginia

21.89

 

Kentucky

22.63

 

Arkansas

23.22

 

New Mexico

23.35

 

South Carolina

23.61

 

South Dakota

26.71

 

Montana

28.48

 

Mississippi

30.24

 

Wyoming

33.00

Copyright , Drive and Stay Alive, Inc., 2004

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Explanatory Notes

a.   The rates shown are 2002 for IRTAD countries, and 2003 for individual American

      states. The national rates for 2003 were obtained after this table was published

      and are available here.

b.   The rate published by IRTAD in respect of Turkey (2002) was not believable for more

      reasons than one. In July, 2004, DSA found media reports from Turkey that led us to

      believe that the true per capita rate was around 14. DSA contacted IRTAD and it

      acknowledged our concerns then added a footnote to the IRTAD database pointing

      out that the rate of 5.6 shown for Turkey only represented a proportion of the problem.

c.   The rate for Portugal, 2002, was amended by IRTAD during 2004 to reflect more

      up-to-date information.

 

Table 2 surely shows good enough reason why America may have things it could learn from some of the better-performing countries.

 

Table showing multi-country per capita death rates since 1988

 

As always, Drive and Stay Alive welcomes feedback on our articles. We may add pertinent comments to the foot of this page (edited for length, if necessary). Contact us here.