Traffic safety measures ranging from seat belt and drunk driving enforcement to design standards for cars and trucks “averted a public health disaster” by preventing about 5.8 million deaths in the U.S. from 1968 through 2015, according to a new study.
The analysis found that without federal and state policies, traffic deaths annually would “likely have been in the hundreds of thousands rather than tens of thousands” in recent years. The report, published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, was by Leon Robertson, an injury epidemiology expert who taught at Yale and Harvard and has written more than 150 research papers and books, many on automotive safety.
Robertson’s estimate of 5.8 million lives saved over nearly a half-century is almost 10 times higher than a previous government estimate for a similar period. At least one other auto safety expert – Charles Farmer, the vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – characterized Robertson’s estimate as way too high.
But Robertson told FairWarning that his peer-reviewed study reflected a broad array of factors that influence safety. He took into account the rising numbers of registered cars, trucks and motorcycles in recent decades, along with increases in miles traveled. Robertson also evaluated population growth and the increases in young, inexperienced drivers, who have a higher risk of accidents. Other considerations included population shifts to warmer states, where people tend to drive more.