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Why Does The United States Lead The World In Traffic Deaths?

Alabama Accident & Injury Lawyers At Blackwell Law FirmThe United States has a much higher rate of car accident deaths than other highly developed countries. Recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) research paints a difficult and disturbing picture of our nation’s highway fatality rates compared to other similar countries.

In fact, the CDC data shows the rate of highway deaths in the United States is the very highest among all high-income countries studied. That’s not all. The data gets even worse. Unlike many other countries which saw declining rates of fatal highway accidents, the rate of deaths in the United States actually increased in the years studied. From a safety standpoint, we are headed in the wrong direction!

I’ve seen a couple other posts quoting this troubling road data. The data is disturbing. But, I don’t want simply to quote statistics. Instead of simply quoting research, we should use the data to discuss safety. Here are two key questions I have from this recent research:

  1. Why is the rate of highway deaths in the U.S. so much higher?
  2. What can we do to reduce the rate of deadly accidents?

The data is only important if used to address the larger issue of highway safety. So, let’s look at the two questions I raised.

Why Is The Rate Of Highway Accident Deaths Higher In The United States?

Safety experts believe numerous issues make our highways more dangerous than those of other developed countries. I’ll offer a few here for discussion:

  • Impaired Driving Behavior And Regulation

Years ago, safety experts talked just about “drunk driving.” With the impact of drugs (both legal and illegal) in our country, the issue evolved into one of “impaired driving.” I’ve written about impaired commercial drivers many times. Many of my past articles are posted on this blog. It’s a huge issue on U.S. highways.

Since I’ve discussed the impact of drugged driving numerous times, I’ll just briefly address alcohol here. In Alabama (and other states) the legal limit for driving under the influence is .08. However, in most other developed countries, the limit is actually less. Plus, criminal penalties for impaired driving are usually harsher or more expensive in other developed countries.

The result is this — We have faced significant drug-related problems both from prescription and non-prescription drugs in the United States. And, our laws are also less strict when it comes to drinking and driving.

  • Driver Speed Regulation

A recent StreetsBlog article notes “the U.S. fails to control driver speed as well as other nations.” That article discusses the difficulty of adjusting our speed laws in specific areas due to the mix of local-state-federal overlapping regulation. That’s not the only issue with speed.

In recent years, a number of states have even raised speed limits on their main highways. In the last two years, several other states have debated legislation that would either increase speed limits for all vehicles or eliminate lower limits placed on heavy commercial trucks. Many of our main highways have become more dangerous for cars and trucks.

  • Other Driver Safety Behavior Standards

What do I mean by driver safety standards? I’m talking about the various rules required of drivers. For example, some states have low standards for motorcycle helmets. From state-to-state important safety helmet laws vary widely. While I’ve not researched other states, a recent article stated the following about helmet laws:

Nineteen states require that all riders wear a helmet. Eighteen states require riders 17 and younger to wear helmets, and nine states require riders 20 and younger to wear helmets. Delaware requires riders 18 and younger to wear helmets, and Missouri sets the age as 25.

In other words, the majority of states (at least according to that article) do not require all adults to wear motorcycle helmets. Several years ago, I represented a motorcyclist who was severely injured when a car crossed Bob Wallace Avenue in Huntsville, right in front of him. Why do I mention that case? One of the local businesses in that area had cameras which recorded the crash. It was traumatic just to watch the video — My client could not stop when the car crossed directly in front of him. He hit the car right on the side and became airborne. The video showed him flying into the air and then landing on the street. He suffered severe head, neck and shoulder injuries. He was wearing a helmet and that likely saved his life.

It’s not just helmet laws. In Alabama, we have debated hands-free laws for years. Our legislature has always been slow to protect its citizens. Many other states across the U.S. have lax distracted driving laws.

Think about seat belt laws. Alabama only began requiring adult backseat riders to wear seatbelts in 2019. On a host of issues from seatbelts to phones to helmets to texting, many states lack safety regulations that protect all lives on the highway.

  • Car And Truck Safety Equipment Standards

Too often, simple car and truck safety standards are quashed by lobbyists representing industry groups. Our regulatory safety agencies are supposed to put people over corporate profits. The tragedy is that too often they don’t. I’ll give one example of a simple safety issue.

Commercial Truck Side Guards. I’ve written several times about this needed safety equipment. You can read one of my articles at Commercial Trucks Should Have Side Guards. In another, I ask Will Congress Require Safety Side Guards On Large Trucks? Truck side under-ride protections is a clear issue. These simple devices have been required in Europe for years. They have saved numerous lives. Years of safety data make this issue clear. At highway speeds, a car can go under the side of a large truck. The result is devastating. I’ve seen the horrible pictures of a car with its top sheared off from such a crash along Interstate 65. Three people lost their lives instantly in that crash. It’s not just a safety issue on our Interstates with cars. In cities, pedestrians and cyclists are often hurt when trucks turn in front of them causing a side underride. Why do we not have simple side guards on all commercial trucks? The answer is simple — Industry lobbyists.

  • Physical Roadway Conditions

According to the 2021 Report Card For America’s Infrastructure, civil engineers graded our public roadways as a C-. That’s an improvement from several years ago but still not great. The same report concluded that 43% of our public roadways are in poor condition. In International comparisons, our roads are often rated outside the top 10 and even top 15 among developed nations.

In the U.S., roads can vary tremendously between different states. Some areas have much worse conditions that create safety risks for cars and trucks. Our roads and bridges need improvement.

What Can Be Done To Reduce Our Rate Of Deadly Accidents?

I’ve addressed a number of areas which contribute to the high rate of fatal accidents on American highways. From road infrastructure to vehicle equipment to driver behavior, we can make improvements. All these areas could be improved. If we want to reduce needless personal injuries and deaths on our highways, we should focus on several areas, including:

  1. A Push For Common Sense Safety Rules That Make Safety A Priority
  2. An Emphasis On Car And Truck Safety Equipment That Puts People Over Industry Profits
  3. A Focus On Maintaining A Safe Highway Infrastructure

With our resources, there is no reason why the U.S. should be headed in the wrong direction in highway safety. Highway safety should be a top priority.


We are Alabama Accident & Injury Lawyers. From our office in Huntsville, we represent clients statewide. If you have a question about a personal injury issue, call the lawyers at Blackwell Law Firm. We are happy to answer your questions. Our consultations are always free and confidential.