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The Correlation Between Highway Deaths and the US Economy

The Correlation Between Highway Deaths and the US Economy

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Published by VJLaxmanan
The significant advances made in reducing US traffic fatalities is highlighted here by computing the rate of increase of highway deaths, per year, during each of the sustained periods since 1972 when traffic deaths increased, amidst a general decline.

This also calls into question the use of the fatality rate based on the ever increasing VMT (vehicle miles traveled). This appears to be a misleading statistics which is subject to a number of feel good interpretations which make for bad policy. The fundamental importance of considering the fatality rate per 100,000 drivers, also compiled by NHTSA in its annual Traffic Safety Facts, is also emphasized in this context.

Finally, the recent one-year uptick, between 2011 and 2012 equals 1713 per year, which is quite high and should be watched closely.
The significant advances made in reducing US traffic fatalities is highlighted here by computing the rate of increase of highway deaths, per year, during each of the sustained periods since 1972 when traffic deaths increased, amidst a general decline.

This also calls into question the use of the fatality rate based on the ever increasing VMT (vehicle miles traveled). This appears to be a misleading statistics which is subject to a number of feel good interpretations which make for bad policy. The fundamental importance of considering the fatality rate per 100,000 drivers, also compiled by NHTSA in its annual Traffic Safety Facts, is also emphasized in this context.

Finally, the recent one-year uptick, between 2011 and 2012 equals 1713 per year, which is quite high and should be watched closely.

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Published by: VJLaxmanan on May 20, 2013
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06/15/2013

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Page | 1
The Correlation Between HighwayDeaths and the US Economy
 
Figure 1: The annual US highway fatalities (y) plotted versus time (t) incalendar years. Thus, the US traffic fatalities have been generally decreasing,after reaching a peak in 1972 (with 54,589 traffic deaths). However, we seeshort periods of increasing deaths, during this overall decline and ever increasing VMT over the years.
Notice that this is NOT the “first” uptick 
 recorded. There have been several such upticks since the overall decline began in 2012.
The magnitude of the present uptick, from 32,367 in 2011 to theestimated 34,080 fatalities in 2012, an increase of 1713 fatalities per year,is quite high (based on historical standards) and must be closely watched.
25,00030,00035,00040,00045,00050,00055,00060,0001950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020
   U   S   H   i  g   h  w  a  y   F  a   t  a   l   i   t   i  e  s
Time t [Calendar years]
First (???)uptick in 2012after six straight years of decline since 2005(1972, 54,589)(2005, 43,510)
 
Page | 2
§1. Introduction
According to the early estimates by the NHTSA, see Ref. [1], traffic fatalities in2012 went up to 34,080, the first such uptick after six straight years of decline,starting 2005, see also the compilation of Traffic Safety Facts, Refs. [2-5].Indeed, an uptick in the traffic fatalities was registered during the first quarterof 2012, and continued through the year, leading finally to this most recent estimate by NHTSA, released in May 2013. The mild winter weather and theslowly recovering US economy, was believed to have been responsible for thisrecent uptick in the highway deaths. In other words, the steady chorus wasthat Americans are driving more, the Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) animportant metric in traffic fatality studies, is increasing. This ultimately isrelated to higher incidence of crashes and therefore fatalities; see Refs. [6-10].The decline in traffic fatalities in earlier years and the record lows achievedwas also tied to the weak US economy, in the popular media, see Refs. [11-14].Unfortunately, simple calculations, based on the reported early estimates of the fatalities (y = 34,080) and the fatality rate per 100 million VMT (y/x =1.16), show that the VMT for 2012 equals 2938 billion which is lower than theVMT of 2946 billion for 2011. Hence, the American-are-driving-more line of reasoning falls flat and cannot be invoked to explain the most recent uptick inthe traffic fatalities in 2012.This point has been discussed in detail in two recent articles, see Refs. [15,16],and also the earlier reviews of in traffic fatality in the US in Refs. [17,18] andthe enactment of the National Traffic Safety Act in 1966 in response to thepublic outcry of rising US highway deaths, Ref. [19]. The US highway deathshave been declining, ever since, after reaching a peak of 54,589 deaths in1972. Actually, this peak, and the subsequent decline in US traffic deathscoincides with the enactment of the National Speed Limit of 55 mph, followingthe Arab oil embargo in 1973
which was meant to punish the US for itssupport of Israel during the Middle East War of 1973.The main purpose now is to call attention to the following interestingcorrelation between the US highway deaths and the fortunes of the US
 
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economy. Without getting into a detailed (and likely controversial) discussionabout the strengths and weaknesses of the US economy, we will simplydiscuss how the US traffic fatalities have shown an uptick at various timesover the last 40 years, while there has a steady decline in US traffic fatalitiesafter the peak in 1972. A graphical representation of this traffic fatality data,obtained from the table provided in Ref. [4], for the years 1899-2009 andaugmented by the data from Refs. [1-3], is presented in Figure 1.An interesting pattern emerges when we analyze the individual periods whentraffic fatalities were rising as a function of time t in calendar years.
Figure 2: The annual US highway fatalities (y) plotted versus time (t) incalendar years. Thus, the US traffic fatalities have been generally decreasing,after reaching a peak in 1972 (with 54,589 traffic deaths). However, we seeshort periods of increasing deaths, during this overall decline and ever increasing VMT over the years.
Notice that this is NOT the “first” uptick. There
have been several such upticks since the overall decline began in 2012.
30,00035,00040,00045,00050,00055,00060,0001940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2020
Time t [Calendar years]
   U   S   H   i  g   h  w  a  y   F  a   t  a   l   i   t   i  e  s
y = 2921.8t 
5,693,365dy/dt = 2921.8 deaths/yr

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