World Leader in Car Crash Deaths

United States Takes the Lead

Public health experts often cite reduced car crash deaths as one of the most successful examples of how common-sense laws can reduce injuries and deaths. Through strategies like enforcing seat belt usage and drunken driving laws, the U.S. from 2000 to 2013 reduced its rate of crash deaths by 31 percent. Some who herald such an achievement use it as an example of how similar approaches could be applied to curb gun violence.

But it turns out the U.S. isn’t doing as well as it could be when it comes to crash deaths. In fact, the U.S. had the worst rate of crash deaths in 2013 per 100,000 people, when compared with 19 other high-income countries, according to a Vital Signs report released Wednesday. More than 32,000 people in the U.S. died in car crashes that year and an additional 2 million people were injured.

The Research

These deaths continue to occur because of alcohol-impaired driving, speeding, and failing to use seat belts, car seats or booster seats. According to the report, about half of drivers or passengers who died in crashes in the U.S. in 2013 were not wearing a seat belt.

To assemble its report, the CDC analyzed data compiled by the World Health Organization and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Study authors admitted that it’s difficult to quantify all the reasons for differences between countries, noting that the U.S. has a significantly higher population than countries it was being compared to and a greater dependence on cars. But they partially adjusted for these differences by controlling for population size, miles traveled and number of registered vehicles.

The researchers found that the U.S. had both the most motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people and per 10,000 registered vehicles. Other than the U.S., countries included in the study were: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

While the U.S. has significantly reduced crash deaths, it also still fell behind in its progress. On average, 19 comparative nations had reduced crash deaths by 56 percent between 2000 and 2013, with Spain having the highest reduction at 75 percent.

“It is important to compare us not to our past but to our potential. Seeing that other high-income countries are doing better, we know we can do better, too,” Dr. Debra Houry, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said in a statement.