11 November 2021

Interesting numbers

Data on U.S. traffic fatalities in 2020 shocked safety advocates: At a time when people were driving less, deaths jumped. In fact, they were higher last year than in any year since 2007.

And 2021 could be even worse. The federal government estimates that 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of this year. That’s an 18.4% increase from the same period in 2020...

Experts don’t know what’s causing the surge, but there are plenty of candidates. Since the pandemic began, people are speeding more and wearing seat belts less, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Vehicles are getting bigger. State lawmakers are making it legal to go faster. U.S. regulators have been less aggressive than those in other countries on vehicle safety requirements...

Another major concern is the vehicles themselves. For a half-century, the federal government’s main safety focus has been protecting the driver and other passengers inside the vehicle when it crashes. But that focus ignores the safety of whomever the vehicle is running into, such as passengers in another car or pedestrians, and that’s worrisome as the size of vehicles increases. Americans now buy about twice as many SUVs as sedans, a remarkable development considering that SUVs first outsold sedans in 2015. High school physics shows why that can be a problem: A vehicle’s force is its mass times its acceleration.

Both are increasing for new cars. The average weight of new vehicles hit 4,156 pounds in the 2019 model year, a record. The average power of vehicles set an all-time high that year (the most recent for which data are available) as well, climbing to 245 horsepower. Those trends are only going to increase as automakers roll out more electric vehicles, which are heavier and more powerful. 

More information at Bloomberg Businessweek.


  1. A vehicles weight and speed are a factor in an accident. But that does not explain why traffic deaths in Germany are one third that of the US. You can travel at a high rate of speed on autobahns. In Germany the test for obtaining a driving license is quite stringent. Seat belts are compulsory and they are used. vehicles must also pass strict safety standards before they can be on the road. None of this would ever happen in the US.

  2. The force applies to a vehicle is its mass times its acceleration, but that is irrelevant. the victim doesn't care about the force applies to the car. The car's momentum is its mass times velocity, and that is what matters in a collision with the victim.

  3. Could the increasing prevalence of/comfort with cell phone use while driving also be a contributor? Most of the dangerous driving I see is distracted driving.

  4. The problem with roads in the US is that they are primarily designed to facilitate the most vehicles per time. I.e. as many cars that go as fast as possible.

    This is inherently not safe. Other countries, specifically some with lower traffic deaths, do not design for speed, but for safety.

    As long as the US does not change its road design, you can keep referring to this image: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/FD6ptLXXMAQWhml?format=png&name=small where you may replace 'kids' with 'people', it doesn't matter.

    Here's how you can make your roads better: https://twitter.com/fietsprofessor/status/1457988724634046467

  5. I'm totally not an expert in this, so please contradict me if I'm wrong! The issue as I understand it with SUVs is not really about weight, but about shape. The higher front means that the initial impact is not with the legs, as it would be for a normal car, but with the internal organs (and for a child, their head). Yes, with a normal car the pedestrian then often goes on to hit the windshield which can be fatal, but kinetic energy is being dissapated at that stage. So an SUV which was the same weight as a normal care would still (all things being equal, noting that some vehicles do have features designed to protect pedestrians) be more likely to kill pedestrians.

    As much as I get annoyed by traffic calming features on roads around me (I don't want to have to go over a speed bump on my bicycle! Leave a space around it!) I would far rather have those than roads like those in the USA.


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