The Commute

An informative and entertaining discussion on our ferries and highways with Kitsap Sun reporters.
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What number of highway deaths is acceptable?

December 22nd, 2013 by ed friedrich

Of the 85.8 million Americans who’ll be traveling over the holidays, only 261 of them will be killed in car crashes.
AAA projects a record 85.8 million people will journey 50 miles or more from home. The National Safety Council estimates 105 will be killed in traffic over Christmas and 156 over New Year’s.
It brings to mind the commercial by the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission that asks people on the street what the annual goal should be for the number of traffic deaths in Washington. Most answer in the hundreds or even thousands. Then they’re asked what the goal should be for number of family members killed in traffic. Of course, they all say zero.
The ad is part of the commission’s “Target Zero” campaign that aims to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. That might never happen, but it’s worth a try.
Thirty-four thousand people died on the roads last year. In Washington, there were 437 traffic deaths; in Kitsap County, 22. How far do you supposed they would plummet if drivers weren’t drunk, high, speeding or messing with their phones? By half? Three-quarters? How many are preventable?
Though macabre, the National Safety Council provides holiday traffic fatality estimates to remind people to drive defensively and make smart decisions. One would be not to drink and drive. Forty-two percent of all New Year’s highway deaths are related to booze. Christmas is at 35 percent, according to Safety+Health magazine.
Car breakdowns are no fun either, but they beat dying or getting hurt in a crash. AAA says of those 85.8 million Americans on the roads during the holidays, it will have to rescue 3.76 million, including 15,000 in Washington and northern Idaho. The main reasons will be dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.
People will be driving farther, AAA says. The average distance traveled is expected to be 805 miles, up 45 miles from last year. They’re projected to spend $765, also slightly more. Top activities include visiting with friends and family (74 percent), dining (70 percent) and shopping (51 percent).
The vast majority of people traveling over the holidays — 91 percent — will be doing it by car. Fortunately for them, gas prices aren’t too bad, averaging $3.31 per gallon in Washington for a gallon of regular unleaded. That’s six cents less than last year.
If you’re driving across the county to visit the grandparents or popping around the corner to the grocery store, watch out for the other guy and don’t give them any reason to watch out for you. If we all do that, maybe Target Zero isn’t out of reach.

One Response to “What number of highway deaths is acceptable?”

  1. Michael Says:

    I’m surprised you did not offer an historical comparison. In 1974 there were 54,052 deaths, a great deal more than your 34,000 deaths for last year. Further, the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is vastly more, from 1,280,544 million in 1974 to 2,879,894 million in 2003. Put in terms of deaths per 100 million miles traveled, the death rate has gone from 3.529 to 1.48 in 2003. Figures here: http://www.saferoads.org/federal/2004/TrafficFatalities1899-2003.pdf)

    The rate for 2012 was 1.13. Compare this to the earliest data in 1924 when the fatality rate was over 24 and you can see the vast improvement. Getting to zero may sound nice, but we all know this is completely impractical and is not going to happen. But by comparing today to our own history you can see we have come a very long way.