Suicides Now More Plentiful Than Traffic Deaths

Good news from NHTSA on the driving front:

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) early projections, the number of traffic fatalities fell three percent between 2009 and 2010, from 33,808 to 32,788. Since 2005, fatalities have dropped 25 percent, from a total of 43,510 fatalities in 2005. The same estimates also project that the fatality rate will be the lowest recorded since 1949, with 1.09 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from the 1.13 fatality rate for 2009. The decrease in fatalities for 2010 occurred despite an estimated increase of nearly 21 billion miles in national vehicle miles traveled.

A regional breakdown showed the greatest drop in fatalities occurred in the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, where they dropped by 12 percent. Arizona, California and Hawaii had the next steepest decline, nearly 11 percent.

Photo: iStockphoto

NHTSA claims the continuing improvement is due to a variety of factors including: stronger traffic-safety laws; high-visibility enforcement; rigorous vehicle-safety programs; public awareness campaigns; campaigns against drunk driving and distracted driving, and the encouragement of seat-belt use. FWIW, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is also more of a fan of child car seats than we are.

While traffic fatalities remain a top U.S. killer, the historical decrease is impressive and heartening. Did you know that there are now fewer traffic deaths each year in the U.S. than suicides?

(HT: Collin Campbell)


That's great! Another Freakonomics post mentioned "peak car travel" or something: that driving private cars has stopped rising and started to decline. Could that also have an impact on these numbers? (Would economic recession also impact, as fewer vehicles are on the road for business or communting?)


Its funny you mention that there might be fewer cars on the road because I said this to my wife while filling upat the gas station on $3.65/gal gas. I seem to think less cars on the road is an major factor. I also wonder if the increased ammount of training for younger drivers has had any effect?


Seems plausible, I got my licence only last year, and was surprised how vigorous the testing was. There's a note of bitterness to this observation because I failed my test twice before finally passing!

Joel Upchurch

An even more impressive statistic is that the fatality rate per vehicle mile has dropped by a factor of 5 since the late 50s. I notice that improvements in trauma care are not on your list. I suspect that improvement in trauma care have decreased the fatality rate by a great deal and for that matter decreased the murder rate as more victims survived their assault.

Another interesting thing is how many fatalities are for people who aren't inside a car. The 2009 numbers were about 27% for pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists.


I've noticed markedly fewer large SUVs on the road in recent years. I wonder if that could have an effect on fatalities? I seem to remember a stat from the 90's indicating accidents involving SUVs resulted in fewer deaths for those inside the SUV, but more deaths for the other vehicle involved. Perhaps higher gas prices are saving lives?


Everyone complains about Northwest drivers "they're so slow and defensive, it's dangerous!" - apparently not.

These crazies in NY and NJ should really open their eyes.


I would have expected more fatalities recently with the increase in texting while driving.


"The same estimates also project that the fatality rate will be the lowest recorded since 1949, with 1.09 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled..."

No, I think it is the fatality TOTAL which is the lowest since 1949 (linked article says "...deaths fell to 33,808 for the year, the lowest number since 1950.") I find it really hard to believe that the RATE in 1950 would be the same, given 60 years of advances in seatbelts, crush zones, driver training, tires, air bags, roads, trauma medicine, traffic law enforcement etc.

Andreas Moser

A suicide is not such a negative thing:


This is interesting since a significant number of traffic fatalities are suicides. As "The Psychology of Influence" points out, traffic fatalities dramatically increase when suicides increase. This way, one's family still gets the life insurance proceeds.

Shelby Mecham

Rates always seem to be changing in that industry but I would just call around to the major trucking companies and ask them what one could expect for a starting salary. The site below might be able to help you better and connect you with a bunch of different truck drivers out there.