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12 The U.S. decline in motor vehicle fatalities over the period from 2007 through 2011 was paralleled in many other countries with advanced economies that were affected by the global recession. Several studies in European countries examined the relationship between the state of the economy and traffic safety in general, and the particular effect of the 2007â2009 recession. A recent comprehensive report by the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group (IRTAD) of the International Transport Forum addressed the relationship between economic conditions and road safety. The report showed that traffic fatalities declined sig- nificantly over the period. One analysis considered 18 European countries, including Ireland and the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Austria, and Sweden, and several smaller countries (Table 3-1). In this analysis, each country experienced a substantial decline, ranging from 14% in France to 60% in Lithuania. Germany experienced a 19% decline, the United Kingdom 35%, and Spain 40% (Antoniou, Yannis et al. n.d.). In comparison, the reduc- tion in the United States over the same period was about 21.3%, which fit within the range observed for the IRTAD countries, and only somewhat less than the overall reduction for the sum of the IRTAD countries. Elvik (2013) studied the remarkable drop in traffic fatalities in the countries of the Organiza- tion for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which overlaps with IRTAD. Traffic fatalities in the OECD countries dropped by a combined 12.6% from 2008 through 2010. Elvik attributed 65% of the reduction to the recession. Decreases in VMT accounted for relatively little of the decline, implying that a decline in fatal crash risk was the primary factor. Although data were not available to test directly, he suggested factors could have included a disproportionate reduction in travel by high-risk groups (e.g., young people) or more cautious driving, including reduced leisure travel (Elvik 2013). Lloyd and colleagues (2015) studied the decline in traffic fatalities in Great Britain from 2007 through 2010. They also found that changes in VMT contributed relatively little to the reduction, other than for heavy trucks (similar to the U.S. experience). The researchers found that the largest drop in fatalities was for young males and females, and that more recent passenger vehicle model years were associated with a lower proportion of crash fatalities, suggesting that newer cars provided more protection in crashes. In addition, they observed a decline in crashes associated with alcohol impairment, which the authors attributed to people imbibing at home rather than going out, i.e., less leisure and discretionary driving. Finally, the researchers observed a reduction in the percentage of speeders on motorways (the highest road class), which was consistent with the hypothesis that people drove more cautiously in the economically difficult times (Lloyd, Wallbank et al. 2015). Forsman and colleagues (n.d.) examined the substantial drop in traffic fatalities in Sweden during the recession years of 2008 to 2009. Consistent with the other studies, they found that C H A P T E R 3 International Parallels
International Parallels 13 the drop in fatalities was greater than could be explained by the recession-related decline in VMT. While the reduction in fatalities was associated with the recession, the researchersâ goal was to identify mechanisms beyond changes in VMT that produced the decline. The study compared the recession period with prior periods of economic growth. The researchers found that growth periods had higher numbers of crashes with multiple vehicles and multiple fatali- ties. They speculated that in periods of growth, more vehicles would be on the road, increasing exposure to multiple vehicle crashes. Most other factors examined, including time of day, age and sex, alcohol-impaired driving, and seat-belt use, were not statistically significant, primar- ily because of relatively small sample sizes. For example, the proportion of younger drivers in fatal crashes was only 15%, compared with almost 27% during periods of economic growth. This difference was in the expected direction and was of substantial magnitude but not statisti- cally significant because of the small sample size (Forsman, Simonsson et al. n.d.). However, the difference is consistent with the hypothesis that the composition of VMT (e.g., less travel by young drivers) rather than the magnitude of VMT was significant in the decline. Country Decline 2007 to 2011 Country Decline 2007 to 2011 Belgium 21.3% Hungary 48.1% Czech Republic 37.0% Netherlands 22.4% Germany 19.1% Austria 24.6% Estonia 48.5% Poland 25.4% Ireland 44.4% Portugal 19.7% Greece 31.8% Finland 23.7% Spain 39.9% Sweden 34.0% France 14.1% United Kingdom 34.7% Italy 23.2% IRTAD countries 27.3% Lithuania 59.6% U.S. 21.3% Adapted from (Antoniou, Yannis et al. n.d.) Table 3-1. Reduction in traffic fatalities, selected European countries and the U.S., 2007â2011.