We talk about safety quite a bit on streets.mn. Rightfully so, it’s one of the biggest threats to public health, a leading cause of injury deaths in many age groups. It’s sometimes helpful to take a step back and look at the big picture, even if we see charts like this all the time.
Below is a comparison of countries and road fatality rates relative to those in Minnesota. Why not compare the whole country to others? Well, for one, we’re a site focused on Minnesota. Also, our state is one of the most statistically safe places to drive (despite our icy and snowy winters).
I’ve written before about how we can measure safety in different ways (so has Bill). In this case, we’re looking at how each country stacks up in fatality rates per capita (the big picture), per mile driven, and the ratio of the former to the latter. Data is taken from this report. At a high level, here’s what each ratio tells us:
Per Mile Driven (Red Bars) Ratio:
A combination of how these factors make driving (or being around cars) safer:
- Road and street designs (signals, lane widths, rumble strips, roundabouts, medians, separated cycle tracks, and any other widely-used design that reduces risk or severity of crash for a given roadway)
- Driver skills and habits (are European drivers more skilled on the road? We’re notably absent from the 2015 Formula One driver list)
- Laws of the road (including drunk driving thresholds), enforcement levels, and penalties
- Vehicle design & safety measures (mandated design safety, seatbelt use, etc)
Per Mile Driven (Blue Bars) Ratio:
How safe or unsafe we are as a society when thinking about transportation:
- All factors listed above, plus…
- Cost to own and operate a vehicle (gas taxes, sales taxes, tolls, carbon taxes, etc)
- Land use patterns & urban design
- Quality of non-auto modes (speed, experience, perceived safety)
- Resulting average auto trip lengths
- Resulting modal split (pedestrians, cyclists, and inter-city trains kill very few people by moving about)
We can see that Minnesota fares pretty well when looking at fatality rate per mile traveled. In fact, on average our rate is lower than these countries. Maybe our roads are fairly well-designed and maintained. Maybe we’re just great drivers on average owing to a fairly educated and prosperous population. Maybe our heavy snow four months a year keeps speeds at a safer level than other states and countries. Probably some combination of everything above.
But thanks to better pedestrian, bike, and transit networks and systems plus more compact land uses that allow those trips to be made, fewer people per capita die in these countries than in Minnesota. The green bars tell us to what extent those factors (there are others) contribute to better safety records above and beyond road design, driver skills, and laws of the road.
This is too high-level to make specific policy and infrastructure investment recommendations. We may do things differently than these (mostly European) places and still improve safety. But we should recognize the choices we’ve made have contributed to a death rate that’s nearly twice as high as this groups average. That would mean about 200 people fewer killed on Minnesota roads in 2012, thousands more if you look back over the previous 50 years. Let’s do something about it.