Muddled mix of safety issues relative to dying in a crash

In late June, this weekly article was all about people underestimating the risk of driving. In the June 27, 2013 issue of “Status Report” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, some very interesting statistics caught my attention. The article explained that the chances of dying in a crash vary across the globe. Of particular interest was the fact that about 1.2 million people die in road crashes each year, but the estimated traffic deaths per 100,000 people had extreme variations worldwide.

For instance, in the U.S., there are about 11 deaths annually per 100,000 people. You might expect Canada would be about the same, but there, only about seven per 100,000 people die each year. Traffic deaths per 100,000 in the U.K. are only four, Japan only five, and in Sweden, only three.

On the other extreme, in Venezuela, about 37 deaths occur per 100,000 people annually. In South Africa, the rate is 32/100,000 and in Malaysia, it is estimated at 25 per 100,000.

So, what accounts for the differences? According to the IIHS, missing from many vehicles built for the burgeoning middle class in markets such as Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico are strong occupant compartments that won’t collapse in a crash and crumple zones to absorb crash energy. Frontal airbags for the driver and front passenger – standard on U.S. vehicles since 1999 – are typically optional equipment.

Without strong government safety regulations, says the IIHS, automakers, including the big U.S., Japanese and European manufacturers, can sell cars in emerging markets that aren’t as safe as ones they sell in industrialized countries. At the same time, consumers may not realize that their vehicles won’t protect them in crashes as well as the same or similar models sold in other parts of the world because their countries don’t have crash test programs for consumer information.

For vehicle occupants, crashworthy cars with good restraint systems are important to reducing deaths and injuries, but vehicle-based strategies alone don’t address the entire problem, says the IIHS. Better road infrastructure and adoption and enforcement of laws that address preventable deaths and injuries also are needed. Only 28 countries, representing seven percent of the world’s population, have comprehensive national laws to address five key risk factors, the World Health Organization estimates. These include laws on speeding, alcohol-impaired driving, safety belt use in front and rear seats, child restraint use and motorcycle helmets for all riders.

Be glad you are living in the United States, where the majority of new vehicles sold earn top crash test ratings, as do vehicles sold in Europe and Australia. And, in New York state, we do a good job of enforcing the laws addressing the five risk factors previously mentioned. But, we can do better, as evidenced by the significantly lower chance of dying in a crash in the U.K., Sweden, Germany, Japan and Canada. Let’s get going.

For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board’s web site at and click on “Traffic Safety Board” under “departments”; then look for “Did You Know” articles under “services.”