The World Health Organization released numbers on Monday morning as part of its “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015,” prompting the Wall Street Journal to promote a headline on social media titled “11 Deadliest Places to Drive.” I came across the article as I was scrolling through my news feed and noticed that the United States ranks sixth on WSJ’s Deadliest list with more than 34,000 traffic deaths per year, trailing densely populated countries like China and India. Also tucked in the report: The U.S. ranks first in the percentage of traffic deaths in cars. More on that in a sec.
You can click here for a comprehensive look at the WHO report, but here are some highlights in the meantime:
- 105 countries have good seat-belt laws that apply to all occupants;
- 47 countries have good speed laws defining a national urban maximum speed limit of 50 Km/h and empowering local authorities to further reduce speed limits;
- 34 countries have a good drink–driving law with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of less than or equal to 0.05 g/dl as well as lower limits of less than or equal to 0.02 g/dl for young and novice drivers;
- 44 countries have helmet laws that apply to all drivers, passengers, roads and engine types; require the helmet to be fastened and refer to a particular helmet standard;
- 53 countries have a child restraint law for occupants of vehicles based on age, height or weight, and apply an age or height restriction on children sitting in the front seat.
The stats seemingly provide positive news given how many cars/drivers there are on the road. In fact, this year’s total traffic-related deaths (1.25 million around the world) are slightly down from last year’s total.
The bad news, however, is that the numbers are still way too high, and the U.S. is No. 1 when it comes to the percentage of traffic deaths in cars at 64 percent; meaning 64 percent of most traffic deaths took place in cars, as opposed to a pedestrian who may have been struck by a vehicle while walking. That’s higher than Russia, Iran, Brazil and China, the next five respective leaders, one of which has a gross population that’s more than triple the number of people living in the U.S.
What does the WHO report mean as it relates to drivers in the U.S.? On the surface, it could mean that many of us are simply bad drivers. More likely, it means that driving laws in the U.S.—whether it involves seat belt enforcement, hours-of-service laws, or speed limit restrictions—need to be re-evaluated. The WHO noted in its report that countries that have the most success reducing the number of road traffic deaths have done so through legislation and an emphasis on enforcement.
If you’re like us, that means taking a closer look at lax trucking legislation that could spell problems down the road. Earlier this month, Jay wrote about semi-trucks getting heavier by the ton, and we’ve been keeping watch on a law that may eventually allow 18-year-olds to get behind the wheel of a 40-ton tractor-trailer. Insurance policies are capped at a level that often proves meager for truck crash victims, forcing many of them to battle it out in court for an equitable sum. Here in Illinois, for example, the state increased the maximum speed limit at the beginning of the 2015 for trucks in certain rural parts of the state—from 55mph to 60mph. The question safety advocates were asking: was it really necessary?
The bottom line with regard to all of this is that, yet again, the driving laws in the U.S. need to be looked at with a more critical eye. As mentioned, traffic-related deaths have decreased in comparison to years past: that’s a shred of progress, but it’s still happening too slow. It’s time to start moving a little faster.