WASHINGTON — Americans killed in traffic accidents will outnumber those killed in wars and guns for the first time in a decade, the risk consulting firm R.L. Polk said in a report released Monday.
The number of traffic fatalities in 2020 is projected to top 1.6 million, but deaths through 2021 will drop by more than 41,000, to 1.5 million, the report found.
The improvements are driven by a reduction in driver fatigue, highway safety and the building of more “high occupancy vehicle” lanes, according to research by the company, which uses public and private data to forecast population shifts and the impact of demographic trends. But the reduction of war deaths also is lowering the projected total for several years, said Tom Rendell, the firm’s president.
From 2001 to 2015, traffic deaths rose slightly, to 1.5 million, but the number of war deaths fell steadily, reaching 267,000 in 2015, the lowest in nearly 30 years. War deaths also have dropped because Americans have been living longer and more productive lives, said Carl Tobias, an expert on federal regulatory law at the University of Richmond.
As Americans live longer, they also are engaging in fewer risky behaviors, including teen driving and excessive drinking, according to the report.
For instance, there was a “massive decline” in teen driving deaths from 2012 to 2015, reaching 9,524 deaths in 2015, down from 16,149 in 2012, when there were 574 deaths for every 100,000 young drivers, the report said. That’s down from 3,184 deaths per 100,000 teen drivers in 2000.
“There was an overnight change in how young drivers behaved,” Rendell said. “Those are the behaviors that get you killed.”
Influential figures have been calling for a slowdown in the increase in deaths to below zero since 2013. A Texas A&M University study published in 2015 concluded that even a 0.1 percent annual increase in the death rate in some states could lead to “large” national increases in deaths after several years, before declining again.
Even so, the R.L. Polk report noted that the improvements “will make all the difference.”
“If we stop here, the country will plunge back into two decades of unprecedented safety decline,” Rendell said.