This is the first of a five-segment series that seeks to explore the causes of vehicle accidents in the U.S., particularly in Colorado. The series is focused on prevention. There are a host of factors in vehicle accidents which can be broadly differentiated as being caused by human or non-human reasons. Vehicle accidents have negative consequences that are overtly tragic and life-altering, such as severe injuries and fatalities; however, there are also less publicized, yet still impactful outcomes such as social and economic losses. This series will center on identifying both factors that we can directly control, as well as those factors that we need to understand in order to maximize roadway safety. We will look closely at aspects of vehicle accident safety including human contributions, weather-related factors, those based on road conditions, and accident prevention.
Labor Day weekend is coming up. Like several other annual holiday periods, Labor Day brings a rise in accidents, injuries, and fatalities. The data from the last five Labor Day weekends shows that roadway fatalities rise by an average of 6% compared to non-holiday weekends. Other similarly dangerous holidays for travel include Memorial Day, New Years and the 4th of July. Actually, the 4th of July is the largest single day for traffic fatalities in the U.S.
Colorado 2016 Accident Data
2016 was not a good one for vehicle safety, as 605 people were killed on Colorado roads. This included a documented all-time high of 125 motorcyclist fatalities and 84 deaths among pedestrians, a 15-year high. In 2015, there were 547 fatalities, thus we realized an 11% increase this year. Overall, the last time that the number of fatalities was this high was in 2005. The CDC explains the national averages as follows:
- There is a traffic fatality on U.S. roads every 12 minutes and an injury every 10 seconds
- Nationwide, there are roughly 40,000 fatalities annually and 270,000 people hospitalized
- These incidents have a total estimated cost of $99 billion for medical care, losses in productivity etc.
The Rapid Evolution of the Automobile in U.S. Society
The mass adoption of the motor vehicle in the U.S. has greatly impacted our society. Commercial production began in the early 1900's and the Ford Motor Company soon produced the Model-T. The Model-T enabled middle-income earners to purchase automobiles, which had previously been accessible exclusively by the wealthy. Automobiles allowed people significant freedom and mobility, enabling them to live in locations beyond those in close proximity to public transportation. Auto worker wages rose steadily and suburbs began to develop beyond city centers. Many U.S. states used fuel taxes to build and develop roads and highways, and industries such as road construction, road patrol enforcement, convenience stores, fast food, auto repair and much more can be attributed to widespread vehicle ownership.
Several Negative Aspects of Automobiles
With so many vehicles on the roads, problems such as congested roads, pollution, and vehicle accidents were inevitable. In cities, the streets were jammed before the rise of the automobile; however, congestion problems truly worsened traffic developed. Injuries and fatalities are a destructive aspect of automobiles and in the late 1960's the U.S. enacted the National Traffic & Motor Vehicle Act that made seat belts a required component. By the 1990's, cars had a host of additional standard safety features included inflatable air bag collision protection.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA: Federal Level)
The NHTSA summarizes their overall progress toward accident prevention in their Economic & Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes report which analyzes a broad range of topics that they are measuring including:
- Losses in productivity
- Damage to property
- Medical costs
- Costs of rehabilitation
- Legal/court costs
- Services for medical, police & fire
- Employer costs
- Physical pain and losses in quality-of-life
Colorado Department of Transportation (CODOT: State Level)
At the state level here in Colorado, the CODOT is the predominate agency for compiling data, analysis, and implementation of automobile safety initiatives. The vision of the agency is best summed up in their 2017 Integrated Safety Plan (ISP) and Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) which seek to “move toward zero deaths”. This goal is to reach a point where there are zero deaths that result from all modes of travel such as driving, walking or biking. The SHSP seeks to promote a culture of safety that limits the losses that crashes inflict on the state from a human, societal and fiscal perspective. Through promotion, engineering, educational programs and steady enforcement, the agency believes we can reach these safety goals.