Yesterday I saw an article in AAA news quoting that the number of traffic deaths in the US went up in 2005. Some time ago I heard on the German Tagesschau news that the number of traffic deaths in Germany went down in 2005. A few years ago news about a decline in German traffic deaths prompted me to compare these two countries’ traffic deaths per capita and found out that in the US the number was quite a bit higher. At first that might be surprising considering the much higher driven highway speeds back in Germany. People here usually are shocked when you tell them that folks in Germany routinely drive as fast as 90 MPH and it’s not unusual to get passed on the highway when doing 100. Here’s an interesting link about the German Autobahn.
So, today I went back and looked at the statistics again, and the numbers are, quite frankly, rather shocking. Data for the US can be found here, data for Germany here. Unfortunately, the data for Germany lists only the last 3 years. Hopefully I’ll be able to find more data elsewhere.
The following graphic shows the trend of the number of traffic deaths per 100,000 population from 2003 to 2005. While in Germany the number has been going down continuously over the last three years, it remained all but constant in the US. Overall, the number in the US is more than twice as high. Unfortunately, the German statistic does not show the total number of miles driven. It would be very interesting to see if that would change the result.
It is also interesting to look at the potential causes. Unfortunately, the statistics are not as easy to compare in that regard. The German statistics give only causes for accidents in which persons got hurt without specifying how many of those were fatal. The US statistics, in contrast, are only with regard to fatal accidents. For lack of better data, the following figure shows for each country the percentage of alcohol related crashes, for Germany those are all crashes in which persons get hurt, for the US those are only the fatal crashes.
So, in conclusion of this brief analysis, one possible explanation for the much higher number of traffic related fatalities in the US could be a significantly higher percentage of drunk driving. Other causes, such as use of safety belts or total miles driven per capita are probably also important, but I could not find any good data on them. Last not least, the much higher driving speeds encountered in Germany do not seem to make it less safe to drive on German highways.