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9 Two fundamental processes were at work over the period. The first process set the baseline level of safety that influenced the number of traffic deaths each year. This baseline level was the product of long-term trends in the factors that are known to affect traffic safety, such as safety-belt use, improvements in the crashworthiness of cars, the spread of crash-avoidance technologies, alcohol consumption, speed limits, highway infrastructure, traffic enforcement and safety campaigns, driver license laws, and other efforts to reduce the number of fatalities on U.S. roads. The second process consisted of the factors that precipitated the sharp decline in fatal crashes and deaths in 2008â2011. The major event in this period was the recession that started in December 2007 and ended in June 2009 (NBER 2010). At the same time, the factors that influ- enced long-term trends in safety continued, such as incremental improvements in safety-belt use, the introduction of more crashworthy passenger vehicles into the fleet, safety campaigns to improve driver behavior, infrastructure improvements, and other factors. Explaining the drop between 2008 and 2011 is the major goal of the project, but the explanation is undertaken within the context of overall trends in traffic safety over the period. 2.1 Risk vs. Exposure The number of fatalities and injuries in crashes is the product of risk times exposure: = ÃFatalities Risk Exposure Eq. 1 Risk is expressed as the number of fatalities (in this case) per some unit of exposure, such as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or the number of drivers or registered vehicles. Therefore, fewer traffic fatalities can be the result of lower risk of travel or less exposure to travel, or some com- bination of the two. The risk/exposure equation suggests several possible general and high-level explanations for the drop. The dramatic decline of 2008 through 2011 coincided with and followed a significant economic recession, so naturally the economic slowdown is one possible explana- tion, though not the only one. Possible explanations for the decline in traffic fatalities include the following hypotheses: 1. The economic decline resulted in reduced VMT. The reduction in exposure to traffic crashes in turn resulted in fewer fatalities. 2. The economy had a differential impact on travel on certain types of risky roads. For example, rural areas tend to have higher fatal crash rates than urban areas for similar classes of road- ways. (See Table 6-1 for fatality rates over the period.) C H A P T E R 2 Analytical Approach
10 Identification of Factors Contributing to the Decline of Traffic Fatalities in the United States from 2008 to 2012 3. The economic decline led to changes in driver behavior such that drivers may have driven more cautiously. For example, drivers may have slowed down to conserve fuel, or they may have reduced leisure and discretionary driving, and thus reduced the risk of driving. 4. The economic decline may have reduced travel by high-risk drivers. Younger drivers and other high-risk drivers may have reduced their travel disproportionately, thus reducing the exposure to travel of particularly risky drivers. 5. Other factors, independent of the recession, may have reduced the risk of travel. These factors, including increased penetration of electronic stability control (ESC), improved crashworthi- ness, state programs to improve highway safety and reduce drunk driving, as well as other safety efforts, may have combined with the economic factors to reduce the risk of travel. 2.2 Use of the Haddon Matrix Factors that affected the incidence of fatal crashes and fatal crash injuries over the period were organized using the Haddon Matrix (Williams 1999). The Haddon Matrix provides a frame- work to cover comprehensively the factors related to crash risk (Table 2-1). Within the Haddon Matrix, factors are disaggregated into pre-crash, crash, and post-crash factors, and by human, vehicular, and environmental factors. The factors in the pre-crash row of cells affect the prob- ability of crashes; those in the crash row include factors that affect the severity of crashes; and those in the post-crash row affect severity of outcomes. Human factors include who drives and how they are prepared and licensed (pre-crash); how they drive and what occupant protec- tions they use (crash); and their resilience to injury (post-crash). Vehicle factors cover design and performance; how well or poorly they protect occupants in crashes; and post-crash sys- tems such as event notification and technologies to reduce the probability of post-crash fires. The environment component includes roadway design and conditions that affect the prob- ability of crash involvement; designs and structures that reduce the severity of crashes that occur; and the post-crash infrastructure to treat crash injuries quickly and effectively. The utility of the Haddon Matrix is that it ensures that all aspects of what might be called the crash systemâvehicle, occupants, and environmentâare considered. 2.3 Economic Framework Drivers, vehicles, and the infrastructure environment are all embedded within current economic conditions. VMT is in part a response to pure economic demand. Increased economic activity is supported by increased travel (especially for commercial motor vehicles). The state of the economy also influences private driversâ decisions about travel. Increases in GDP and higher Human Vehicle Environment Pre-crash Factors that affect who drives and how they drive, such as graduated driver licensing and public information campaigns Factors related to the condition and performance of vehicles, such as crash-avoidance technologies Factors that affect the road and built environment to reduce crashes, such as rumble strips, wide shoulders, etc. Crash Choices occupants make to protect themselves, such as safety-belt use Factors that affect how vehicles protect occupants in crashes, such as crush spaces and restraint effectiveness Roadway design and structures to reduce crash severity Post-crash Factors that affect how occupants respond to crash injury, such as age, physical condition Vehicle design and technologies to reduce post-crash harm, such as crash notification Better/faster access to crash scenes, improved emergency medical service Table 2-1. Haddon Matrix to organize factors related to crash risk and severity.
Analytical Approach 11 incomes allow more discretionary travel. Increases in the unemployment rate, to the contrary, tend to reduce income and thus reduce travel and exposure to crashes. Reduced income might also affect the decision to buy newer vehicles, which are generally more crashworthy and which may be equipped with crash-avoidance technologies. Similarly, increased fuel costs raise the price per mile of travel and would be expected to lower the amount of travel, and thus exposure to crashes. Economic contraction might also slow the funding of infrastructure improvement that could reduce the number and severity of crashes. The recession in this period officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. The period of relative stability in the number of traffic fatalities corresponds to the period up to the beginning of the recession. The initial period of the decline in the number of traffic fatalities occurred at the same time as the recession was occurring. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) defines a recession as âa significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employ- ment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.â (NBER 2013) Each change identified in the definition of a recession would tend to affect traffic safety by affecting the amount of exposure as well as, more subtly, decisions about who drives and where they drive. The first part of the analytical approach was to identify the factors and trends that con- tributed to the underlying level of safety with respect to fatal injuries in traffic crashes. These are the factors that have contributed to the overall reduction in fatal crash rates over the past 50 years. The focus in the current project is on the years from 2001 to 2012, as a way of con- straining the problem to a manageable time frame, but the factors that have contributed to the overall downward slope to fatal crash risk are reasonably well known. They include such elements as (to work through the Haddon Matrix) graduated driver licensing, improved head- lights, improved road design with wide lanes and predictable geometry, increased safety-belt use, more crashworthy vehicles equipped with airbags, more effective guardrails and crash cushions, and quicker responses from emergency medical service (EMS), with more effective trauma care. 2.4 Study Outline Chapter 3 of this report outlines international parallels, in which countries with advanced economies experienced a decline of similar magnitude in traffic fatalities coincident with the economic recession. Chapter 4 discusses evaluating the relative contribution of changes in risk and exposure to the drop in traffic fatalities. Chapter 5 outlines the data sources used in the analysis, followed in Chapter 6 by an analysis of the most important trends in fatal traffic crashes and VMT in the United States over the period 2001 to 2012. Chapter 7 provides the results of statistical modeling to understand the contribution of different factors to the drop in traffic fatalities, 2007 to 2012. Chapter 8 provides a discussion of the overall results. Chapter 9 outlines the major limitations of the current study, and Chapter 10 describes needed future research and the data necessary to support it.