‘Why Are American Drivers So Deadly?’


‘Examine a chart of year-over-year car fatalities in the United States, and you'll encounter two significant spikes -- three, counting the one we are living through today. The first arrived in the earliest decades of the 20th century, as cities were overrun by hordes of untrained drivers; the second hit at the midcentury mark, with the creation of the freeway system and the introduction of powerful new vehicles like the Ford Mustang. In 1966 alone, the traffic death toll hit 50,894, more than the number of American troops killed in combat during the entire Vietnam War.’
‘The bigger the vehicle, the less visibility it affords, and the more destruction it can wreak. In a report published in November (https://www.iihs.org/news/detail/vehicles-with-higher-more-vertical-front-ends-pose-greater-risk-to-pedestrians), the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit, concluded that S.U.V.s or vans with a hood height greater than 40 inches -- standard-issue specs for an American truck in 2023 -- are 45 percent more likely to kill pedestrians than smaller cars.

‘Forty-three percent of our 4.2 million miles of road, meanwhile, are in poor or mediocre condition, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. And they’re unlikely to be repaired soon, given the $786 billion construction backlog.

‘Above all, though, the problem seems to be us – the American public, the American driver. “It’s not an exaggeration to say behavior on the road today is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Capt. Michael Brown, a state police district commander in Michigan, told me.’

I have no problem agreeing with pretty much everything written here, but what is not discussed is very, very important. The number of traffic deaths in recent years (42,749 in 2022) divided by the estimated total number of miles driven in America (3,200,000,000,000 miles in 2022) shows that the risk of dying in a vehicle crash is far, far lower today than it was in 1966 (50,894 deaths with 490,000,000,000 miles driven). The difference is enormous, but entirely disregarded.


I live in VA where driver’s ed is integrated into the public school system. (I’m sure it has been in other states as well). One semester of book learning with a written exam and then one semester of actual driving instruction that culminates in a driving test. Bonus for the parents! No scheduling that with the DMV! The kid comes home with a temporary license and there’s a weird court ceremony where the kid gets the real license from a judge (who prefaces with a lecture).

No matter, the driver’s ed curriculum is pretty much horrible. For example, the amount of instruction / time dedicated to the proper use of interstates? (What are exit/entrance ramps and how do you use them? What’s the left-most lane mostly for? Stuff like that). ZERO percent. Literally. There is NOTHING in the whole thing about how to not die or kill when you’re trying to join/use/leave 70mph roadways.

I don’t want to oversimplify the larger issues by pointing to this one (BIG) thing. But it is astounding. The interstate driving IQ on average has dropped precipitously - and it is dangerous. The one time I drove the Autobahn I felt better because most people knew wtf they were doing.

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Well there is a red flag about the author, first generation Mustangs came with an in-line six or optional 289, shared a lot of components with the Falcon.

Same In Minneapolis, but obtaining learners permit and license was responsibly of the student. School provided classroom and on the road training in brand new Oldsmobiles loaned to the school system.

We do see many drivers that seem to be clueless or simply have no regard for laws and/or common courtesy. Disregard for safety.
Locally, drivers try to ‘beat the train’, driving around the arms at train crossings. Pedestrians are no better, crossing busy road against a red like, not waiting for the walk light to come on. Jaywalking within 20 feet of a controlled crosswalk, while wearing dark clothing at night.

Okay, rant over!


Just looking at the data doesn’t answer the question.

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A few days ago, I related my experiences on just one day:

I had to abruptly change lanes and had to cut in front of a vehicle in the right lane when an 18 wheeler coming toward me was traveling 1.5 to 2 feet over the double yellow line.

A few minutes later, I observed a car traveling–at a fairly-high speed-- almost the full length of the perimeter roadway at the regional mall, while driving on the wrong side of the double yellow line.

Let’s not forget the folks who walk across the street while peering intently at their smartphone’s screen.


Also in VA non english speakers are allowed to bring their own interpreters to take the written drivers test. Who’s to say if they are just getting the answers from them. I imagine other states may allow this also.


First off I don’t put much faith in articles or research done by the nyt,wa po, or even ap anymore. But it is hard to not make a social comment when you talk about traffic deaths. So are we worried about all deaths or killing or just traffic. Like the sliver and the log.

When you fall into the trap of not enforcing laws, making police the problem, voting in prosecutors and politicians who favor non enforcement, and allow for a general deterioration of social moras, this is what you get. A general climate of disrespect for others and deteriorating behavior. But don’t worry, Washington state is trying to limit ammo so that car jacket may have a gun but no ammo.

I drive a lot and in my own Minnesota experience have not seen much of the type of behavior talked about here, but we are led by evil people so it may be coming to my neighborhood.


I just came back from an outing to Princeton. There was some roadwork taking place on the 2 lane road that I have to take to my destination, and the cops had very clearly delineated the necessary lane change by using a LOT of traffic cones.

As long as a driver slowed down sufficiently, he should have had no problem figuring out how to steer his car. And yet, some yahoo managed to collide head-on with an oncoming car. I came along in the aftermath, and from my perspective I couldn’t tell which of the drivers was at fault.

The only good part of the situation was that it took place between two driveways for a strip mall, so traffic could avoid a jam by simply driving through the strip mall.

I wonder if that’s really true? Are Americans driving less safely now than in the past? My experience, safety-wise, about the same now compared to the early 1970’s. But I have indeed noticed a pretty significant rise over the past 15 years in rude driving behavior, especially unnecessary honking. & lack of common sense courtesy, politely waiting for the neighbor to back out of their driveway, stuff like that. If my car is between another car and where they want to go, more likely I’ll get honked at now, very unlikely 40-50 years ago. Rude parking too, blocking the sidewalks, driveways, etc.

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I have hopes but the hippies of the 60s raised a generation of entitled kids. The hippies and the kids are now trying to re-make the country in their image. Fortunately in most of the country they are outnumbered.

This was likely a contributor rather than an employee of the time. But we know you were really trying to inject politics rather than journalism into the thread.


The author lives in Atlanta Georgia. Likely owns a car and drives highways around the ATL. That alone would make you think drivers are worse… because you drive in crazy Atlanta traffic!


I love the “moral decline theory of social problems.” (Not really, though. It’s very poor social science). Oddly, I’m pretty sure it’s most common among Boomers - the same generation as the “hippies.”

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Reminds me of recent Tom Hanks movie “A Man Called Otto” . Otto is an engineer, boomer-age, very effective at his work, but is forced to retire by younger management. He believes pretty much everything in life has to be done to a plan, and the plan’s rules must be strictly enforced for the plan to work. The younger management staff don’t agree … younger folk think he’s inflexible.

Definitely not a comedy, but still pretty good viewing. Thoughtful.


The US population was about 170,000,000 in 1960 and around 350,000,000 today. Estimating about twice as many drivers in the road today than in 1960 seems reasonable. To have even the same number of traffic problems would mean that the accident rate has to be half of what it was back in the day.


Back to bad drivers. Again, another car vs train.
Crossing gates (crossing arms) down, lights flashing. Car A is stopped at the gates, car B (Honda Element) drives around car A, drives around crossing gate, then attempts to cross tracks. Driver of car B dies, two other adults and a nine year old child are severely injured. This happened Tuesday at 2 PM.
I have stopped at the white line before the tracks, have had vehicles drive around me ending up with part of their vehicle on the tracks.
What are they thinking?

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They are not thinking that would require a mind that they don’t have.


I wouldn’t discount the long term effect of drugs on some of this but accidents do happen. Etched in my mind is the killing of our local game warden back about 1962. Killed by the rock island coming through town. Warning lights but don’t think they had crossing guards back then. On his way home for lunch, maybe thinking about something else but I can still see the newspaper picture of the mangled 61 ford he was driving. I know his daughter and whenever I see her I still think about it 60 years later.

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The article summarized it nicely. The three waves are

  1. Many new inexperienced drivers, cars with poor handling that were built around horse drawn carriage styling, and roads that were unsuitable to higher speed travel with no guard rails or any warning signs. As time went on, the number of accidents went down as these issues went away.

  2. The muscle car era. Speed kills. Cars were no longer limited to a top speed of 60 or 70 MPH. Travel by vehicle became much more common. Racing became popular. Head on collisions were common. Nobody had or wore seatbelts. Then crash safety became a thing. Crash testing started. Seatbelts were added. The nation wide 55 MPH speed limited happened. More police force was dedicated to unsafe vehicle operation. People gradually started using seatbelts. The interstate highway was created over the next 3 decades which took a lot of cars off of non divided highways, so lot of head on crashes were avoided. New regulations in the late 90s relating to vehicle height mismatch crash requirements, or the “Prius catchers”, to address the growing SUV popularity problem.

  3. The 3rd wave from around 2019 onward. Speed limits were raised. Police enforement of vehicle safety rules has been significantly decreasing. The death spike during the pandemic proves that. More and more tire shops put new tires on the front and don’t keep the tires with less traction on the rear, which is a well known hazard. Increased cost of repair generates more neglected maintenance. More criminals driving stolen cars. Bigger vehicles with reduced visibility becoming ever more popular. Greater extremes in vehicle sizes. Compact cars being more popular due to econonmy, and huge SUVs becoming ever more popular. More people under the influence of hard drugs and medications. More medical emergency related accidents. The vehicle industry often designs for crash tests rather than real world accidents. Increasingly poor rear end crash protection as shorter vehicles become popular, and the traditional large car with a big trunk goes away.

Note that roads in a poor state of repair cause traffic to slow down, which increases safety.