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U.S. road deaths far outnumber those in Europe. Why?

Wyoming's roads are nine times deadlier than Ireland's. California's road safety is on par with Romania's.
Romania has the Romania has the deadliest roads in the European Union, but it’s still doing better than 24 of America’s 50 states. (Credit: Maps US-EU)
Key Takeaways
  • Most EU member states have fewer than 80 road deaths per million people per year.
  • Most U.S. states have more — and ten have at least double that figure.
  • Even Romania, the worst performer in the EU, is doing better than almost half of all U.S. states.
A Harley Davidson speeding toward Cody, Wyoming. The state has some of America’s most scenic drives, but also some of the deadliest roads in America — and the EU. (Credit: In Pictured Ltd / Corbis via Getty Images)

The roads in Wyoming are almost nine times deadlier than those in Ireland. They are the two outliers on these maps, which indicate the number of road fatalities per million inhabitants per year (pmpy) across the European Union and the U.S.

For short trips, Americans drive and Europeans don’t

Arguably, this isn’t the fairest metric to compare road fatalities between the U.S. and the EU, as car culture is quite different on either side of the Atlantic. It could be argued that actual mileage is a better yardstick than just population. After all, Americans drive a lot more than Europeans.

According to Bloomberg, in 2010, Americans used their car for 85% of their daily trips, compared to 50-65% for Europeans. The difference was especially stark for the 30% of trips that were shorter than a mile: almost 70% of Americans used their car, while 70% of Europeans walked, biked, or took public transport.

Yet, even if we keep these and other differences in mind, the gap between per capita road fatalities is remarkably wide, and not just between Wyomingites and the Irish. Ireland is first among five EU members with fewer than 40 fatalities per million inhabitants per year. The others are Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, and Spain. In all other EU member states except Romania and Bulgaria, the traffic death toll is 40-79 per million per year.

With just 29 road deaths per million per year, Ireland is the EU’s best road safety student. Romania has the Union’s worst score: 96 pmpy.

Cultural and other differences help explain the discrepancy in road deaths between the U.S. and EU. Shown on a map, the result is shockingly stark. (Credit: Maps US-EU)

The stats are considerably worse in the U.S. None of the 50 states matches the results of the EU’s safest members (<40 pmpy). Just 11 equal the EU’s median performance (40-79 pmpy), most prominently a cluster of seven states in the northeast, including New York.

California’s traffic deaths are comparable to Romania’s

Fifteen states, including California, have traffic death levels similar to Bulgaria and Romania (80-119 pmpy). But 14 states do even worse (120-159), including populous states like Texas and Florida.

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Ten states have more than 160 road deaths per million per year, with a notable cluster in the South, including Mississippi and Alabama. Massachusetts and New York have the best score (48 pmpy), Wyoming the worst (254). That’s roughly one road death per 4,000 Wyomingites each year.

Perhaps America’s road fatalities would decline if Americans used more public transport and other alternatives. They also need to get some of those alternatives where there aren’t many to choose from — although especially in thinly populated places like Wyoming, that may be a hard thing to accomplish.

Strange Maps #1151

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