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A Road Safety Postcard from Sweden

by Roger Lanctot | 5月 15, 2020

In February, the U.S. became the only country of 140 participating in the Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety (a joint effort of the United Nations and the Wold Health Organization) to refuse to sign the event's concluding declaration on road safety. Earlier this month, leaders representing 30 countries came together to contribute $8B to fund the development of a vaccine to defeat the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Collective international action to combat escalating roadway fatalities - a scourge taking more than 1.3M lives annually - is commensurate with fighting COVID-19, which has taken an estimated 300,000 lives so far globally. One can see a consistency in U.S. policy - a consistent inability to coordinate with partners or allies around the world to reduce fatalities, regardless of the cause. One assessment described the U.S. as a "road-death reduction pariah."

In defense of its position regarding the Road Safety declaration, the U.S. published a statement including the following:

"The United States is committed to improving global road safety and is leading by example. In the past 50 years, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicles miles traveled (VMT) has decreased by 76 percent. This represents a 31 percent decrease in total crash fatalities. In addition, the percentage of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities declined from nearly 50% of all fatalities in 1982 to less than 30% in 2018. Seat belt use has increased to about 90% nationwide."

It must have come as a bit of a shock for attendees at the Stockholm event to be more or less lectured by the U.S. on road safety. The U.S. has one of the highest highway fatality rates in the world and, while meeting in Stockholm, was rubbing shoulders with some of the world's leaders in road safety.

Let's take a look at the WHO data regarding safety. The figures paint a very different picture regarding road safety in the U.S.

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SOURCE: World Health Organization 2018 Report on Road Safety

The Stockholm Declaration was a predictably benign and largely ambiguous document which might be described as providing strong encouragement to the signatories to make a greater and concerted effort to enhance highway safety and reduce fatalities. It is a worthy objective with more than 3,000 people being killed on a daily basis vastly overshadowing the current daily toll being taken by COVID-19.

Stockhold Declaration:

U.S. Position on the Stockholm Declaration:

In an odd twist, the onset of COVID-19 - which is still taking 1,000 lives every day in the U.S. - has dramatically reduced highway traffic and, not coincidentally, the daily 100 deaths associated with driving in the U.S. It is a terrifying trade off and one that will soon be reversed as COVID-19 fatalities are expected to increase in the U.S. while highway fatalities return to previous levels as the U.S. economy re-opens.

The U.S. performance in combatting COVID-19 is comparably poor to the ongoing and largely failing effort to reduce highway fatalities. Let's look at the data, from Worldometer, so far.

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The countries with the fewest fatalities per 1M population can be viewed as achieving some success in keeping COVID-19 fatality rates low. Some of these countries, such as Germany, are tentatively opening up their economies, with the European Union beginning to talk about jumpstarting tourism.

The U.S., on the other hand has so far seen 263 out of every million U.S. residents fall victim to COVID-19 which, based on this metric alone and compared to European allies, shows the country in ninth place on the list of poorest performers. The frightening reality here, though, is that the U.S. is expecting a doubling of the total number of fatalities based on current trends an outcome that will vault the U.S. to near the top of the fatalities/million residents leader board.

The challenges of reducing highway fatalities and COVID-19 infections are shared challenges. The U.S. so far has a lousy record in both departments with fatalities mounting on a daily basis. This is a time for cooperation and collaboration. Perhaps the coming weeks will see an outbreak of diplomacy. There is much work to be done in improving vehicular safety and combatting COVID-19. For now, we can only hope.

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