The US News and World Report claimed good news this January: car accidents are no longer the most common preventable death in the U.S., a figure that has stayed fairly steady over the years.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean our nation’s roads are demonstrably safer – what it really means is that prescription drug addiction and the opioid epidemic have worsened so much so that they’ve overtaken falls and car collisions as the most frequent causes of preventable death.
However, while car crashes have slipped slightly to the No. 2 spot, safety watchers say some degree of progress is being made to reduce the number of overall fatalities on the road and hopefully reverse trends to at least make collisions more survivable, if not avoidable.
For instance, car manufacturers are working on including more safety features, including larger numbers of air bags and multiple imminent crash sensors.
Law enforcement also continues to look for ways to discourage distractions behind the wheel – not just phones, but other distractions as well. Tennessee, for instance, can penalize drivers for not only holding or using their phones, but also eating, drinking, or listening to music too loud if these behaviors affect their driving and make an accident more likely.
DUI laws continue to evolve, including harsher penalties in many states for repeat offenders. As legal marijuana access increases around the country, authorities also continue to warn people that driving high can potentially be as dangerous as driving drunk.
But at the same time, there are other reasons that keep the number of accidents relatively high, such as increasing numbers of people on the road, people spending more time on the road, along with the declining conditions of many state and federal roads. Mobile phone usage remains rampant, no matter the penalty.
It takes some time to get fresh data at a national level, so much of the available traffic info comes from 2017 and 2016, but even this indicates there are some interesting trends to watch at a local and national level.
It’s definitely “mixed” out there in terms of the positive and negative statistics, but this info shows that we all should be taking extra effort to watch ourselves on the road, wherever we’re traveling.
According to Tennessee’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security, we’re already higher than last year in terms of fatal accidents. Between January and February 2018, there were 94 traffic fatalities.
Between January and Feb. 13, 2019, there have already been reports of 107. This is due to 12 more in January and at least one more in February, a figure that’s more than likely to grow.
District 1 which includes Knoxville, led the state with 23 of these fatalities already. District 3, which includes Nashville, was in second with 20.
Last year, District 4, Memphis, had the top ranking with 28 fatalities, followed by District 1 and District 3, with 13 fatalities each.
Historically, the amount of fatalities is on the rise in the Volunteer State, with an upward curve over the last few years. The DSH reports that there were 995 fatalities statewide in 2013, 963 in 2014, and 962 in 2015. In 2016 the number jumped to 1,037 and then to 1,043 in 2017.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that fewer people are dying on the road, but that figure hasn’t changed all that dramatically.
A total of 37,133 people died on U.S. roadways in 2017, a 1.8 percent decrease from 2016.
This included fewer deaths for pedestrians, motorcyclists, pickup trucks, and vans. Alcohol and speed-related impairment also dipped.
However, the study showed that there was a rise in SUV crashes, large trucks and more people traveling longer distances. It also showed that urban fatalities were higher, which is different than past years, when rural areas were more deadly.
This data included state-by-state rankings of total fatalities and alcohol-impaired driving fatalities.
While the country saw a 1.1 percent decrease in alcohol-impaired deaths between 2016 and 2017, Tennessee went from 227 to 251, a 10.6 percent increase.
The Insurance Journal tells us that injuries are dropping along with deaths. More than 2.1 million were injured in the first six months of 2018, a 1 percent decrease from the same period in 2017.
The National Safety Council reported that there were a total of 4.6 million auto injuries that required medical consultation, and $433.8 billion in total costs (vehicle damage, productivity losses, and medical expenses).
On Tennessee roadways, there were a total of 496,969 accidents reported in 2018. Most of these, 400,388, were marked as “no injury” but 5,744 were marked as incapacitating. This total decreased from the total of 501,125 in 2017, with 402,336 “no injury” accidents and 7,126 marked as incapacitating.
The National Safety Council said one of the primary factors in the number of injuries and fatalities is simply that there are more people on the road, a figure that grows annually.
From 2011 to 2017, there were greater numbers nationally of:
- Miles traveled (up 9 percent)
- Number of vehicles on the road (up 8 percent)
- Total population (up 4 percent)
So with this perspective, auto travel is seemingly safer proportionally.
Tennessee is Certainly Part of This Growth
Figures from the World Population Review show that the state ranks 16th in terms of population, and 23rd in terms of growth over the last decade.
The state’s population is estimated at 6.85 million, up from the 6.34 million counted in the 2010 census, an increase of 11.5 percent. Economic experts initially projected growth of 6.60 million by 2016, but the actual number exceeded this.
Growth has been seen statewide, but especially in larger cities like Memphis, Nashville/Davidson, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Clarksville and Murfreesboro.
Despite overall car accidents in the U.S. declining in past years, the fact still remains that car accidents are one of the leading causes of preventable death and severe injuries. As population and distractions on the road increase, everyone should take a cautious approach when operating their vehicle. While it is disheartening to see the increasing number of alcohol-related crashes in Tennessee, this data will hopefully head Tennesseans and local authorities to take charge and make changes for the safety of everyone.