CHICAGO – The United States is leading the world in increased traffic deaths, and distracted driving is a primary cause, according to a new study of 29 nations.
Only five of 29 countries saw a jump in traffic deaths between 2010 and 2016, and the U.S. had the highest rate of increase at 13.5 percent, said a study by the International Transport Forum, which had its annual summit in Leipzig, Germany, last week. Argentina had the second-highest increase in traffic deaths, at 9 percent, and Chile experienced a 5 percent increase.
The United States also saw the highest jump in pedestrian deaths during the time period, at 39.2 percent, and a 34.8 percent increase in cyclist deaths. In contrast, Norway saw a 37.5 percent drop in pedestrian deaths during this same period, while Israel saw cyclist deaths cut in half.
The increase in U.S. deaths appears to be tied to two main factors — more cars on the road due to a better economy, and distracted driving, said Fred Wegman, chair of the International Road Traffic Data and Analysis Group, a division of the Transport Forum.
“Distracted driving is more prevalent and prominent in the United States than in other countries,” said Wegman.
The study found the United States also had one of the highest rates of road deaths per capita, with 11.6 out of 100,000 people losing their lives to motor vehicle crashes, compared with rates of two to five deaths per 100,000 in countries such as the United Kingdom, Israel, Japan, Germany, Spain and Australia.
Many nations and municipalities in the past two decades have committed to a Vision Zero strategy for reducing traffic deaths and serious crashes. More than two dozen U.S. cities, including Minneapolis, have also agreed to a Vision Zero program. The initiative tries various ways of reducing deaths, including designing safer roads, greater enforcement and education.
Worldwide, traffic fatalities in 2016 were down 3.6 percent compared with 2010. If the United States were excluded from this statistic, the decrease in deaths would be nearly 15 percent, the study found.
Derek Kan, the U.S. undersecretary of transportation for policy, said the U.S. started a safety data initiative to predict and better understand what causes traffic fatalities.
“What does the data tell us — are there specific intersections, are there specific weather conditions, specific events where we see a spike in traffic fatalities?” Kan said. He said the U.S. is working with local police and state transportation departments to examine causes.