Better Safety Education Campaigns Could Reduce Traffic Fatalities in the United States

[Click image for interactive map]

The United States’ traffic fatality rate, according to a new report from the World Health Organization, is much higher than other wealthy, industrialized nations.  [Click image for interactive map]

Sweden, home of the Vision Zero Initiative, has one of the world’s lowest traffic fatality rates, according to the World Health Organization’s 2013 Global Burden of Disease study, with just three traffic fatalities for every 100,000 people in a year.

In fact, many of the nations with the lowest traffic fatality rates are wealthier, industrialized nations:

  • United Kingdom 3.7
  • Netherlands 3.9
  • Germany 4.7
  • Denmark 4.7
  • Singapore 5.1
  • Japan 5.2
  • Australia 6.1
  • Canada 6.8
  • Italy 7.2

But you may notice one wealthy, industrialized nation missing from that list: the United States, where the traffic fatality rate is 11.4 — on par with Bangladesh, Jamaica, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

There are many reasons the traffic fatality rate is comparatively higher in the United States. We’ve often discussed on MTR how the design of our roads prioritizes the movement of automobiles at the expense of other modes, but perhaps one additional reason is how we conduct our traffic safety education campaigns.

Take a look at these traffic safety PSAs from the UK,  Ireland (traffic fatality rate of 4.7), the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand (traffic fatality rate of 9.1). Although some seem more real than others, all are intended to illustrate the true dangers of unsafe driving behavior: injury and death.

Compare those to these American traffic safety ads, with their catchy slogans like “Click it or ticket” and “Drive sober or get pulled over.” These types of public service announcements are not only less realistic, but they seem to have a different message altogether: don’t get caught. Oh, and speeding costs a lot of money.

You don’t have to look overseas to find awareness campaigns that work. Anti-smoking campaigns, like the CDC’s “Tips from a Former Smoker” PSAs, helped 200,000 people quit smoking — and prevented an untold number from ever picking up a cigarette in the first place. But unlike traffic safety PSAs, these videos don’t spare viewers from the truth about what damage smoking can do.

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