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Research panel calls for more rigorous traffic safety

November 27, 2010

The United States lags other “high income” countries in implementing rigorous traffic safety programs, says a panel of the National Research Council chaired by an Indiana University professor.

Clinton V. Oster Jr., of IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, talks of a “notable gap” between traffic safety progress in the United States and other nations.

From 1995 to 2009, U.S. traffic fatalities fell 19 percent. But fatalities dropped 52 percent in France and 30 percent in the United Kingdom over the same period, according to the NRC panel chaired by Oster.

In a nutshell, the countries most successful in reducing death rates had comprehensive safety programs involving road design and traffic management, regulation of vehicle safety and driver behaviors, and mandated motorcycle helmet use.

The panel urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to work with the states to revise its Guidelines for State Highway Safety Program, as well as develop new state highway safety strategies. It recommended large-scale demonstration projects, among other things.

Two ideas that worked in other countries would be problematic here, the panel conceded, such as frequent roadside sobriety checks and universal motorcycle helmet laws.

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