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Weekend Reads: Getting to Zero Road Fatalities

by Kevin Schofield


This weekend’s read is the recently-released National Roadway Safety Strategy from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In 1980, there were over 50,000 roadway fatalities in the United States. Over the following thirty years the annual count dropped to about 32,000 due to a number of factors, including lowering the speed limit to 55, raising the drinking age to 21, mandates for better safety equipment in vehicles (including seat belts, air bags, passenger-side mirrors, and crush-proof roofs), and temporary use restrictions on new teenage drivers’ licenses. The simultaneous increase in the U.S. population hides the magnitude of the difference: the rate of roadway fatalities dropped from 3.5 per 100 million miles driven in 1980 down to about 1.1 in 2010. 

But in the last decade we stopped making progress in reducing fatalities; worse, in 2020 — when most people were staying home because of COVID — fatalities increased both in absolute numbers and in the rate (to about 1.4 per 100 million miles). Experts are unclear as to why the rate ticked up, though many theorize that having fewer cars on the road made it easier to drive faster.

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