Gun deaths fall in US - as road toll picks up speed

It is a classic case of "good news, bad news", American-style. The good news is that deaths by shooting - a major cause of accidental death in the United States - are falling sharply. The bad news is that road deaths are starting to rise and traffic accidents have superseded guns as the biggest cause of death among children and young adults in the US.

The two trends, which reverse long-established patterns, are documented in the annual report of the National Center for Health Statistics. The figures, which relate to 1995, show firearms deaths falling from a peak of 15.6 per 100,000 people in 1993 to 13.9 in 1995, an 11 per cent fall. This compares with an increase of 22 per cent between 1985 and 1993. Traffic deaths, in contrast, rose by 2 per cent over the same period to reach 16.4 after falling from 18.4 per 100,000 people in 1985 to 15.4 in 1993.

While the fall in fatal shootings is variously attributed to tougher laws and policing, demographic factors (fewer young men in the age range at highest risk) and changes in public attitudes towards violence, the authorities find the increase in road deaths harder to explain. They discount some of the obvious causes: deaths in alcohol-related accidents have fallen by 32 per cent in the past 10 years, and the nationwide 55mph speed limit was abolished only last year - too recently to affect the 1995 figures.

The Department of Transportation, which compiles its statistics differently, denies that the increase in road deaths is as large as health officials say it is. Its figures for 1996 show deaths up by 109 (out of a total of 41,907) - a figure a spokesman described as "negligible" - and it says the number has remained "unchanged" since 1992.

But the main road safety organisation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is in little doubt, either about the interpretation of the figures or about the cause. It ascribes the earlier fall in deaths to increased safety consciousness - greater use of seat belts, less drunken driving, improved car engineering and lower speeds. It blames the recent increase on one thing: recklessness on the part of drivers.

After two weeks of driving in five different states, I cannot express great surprise. While the US enjoys an international reputation as a nation not just of car drivers, but of safe car drivers, the statistics tell a different story. In terms of road deaths per 100,000 of the population, its has long been more dangerous than most West European countries, including France and Germany. Britain ranks among the safest.

I am inclined to agree with the road safety organisations in judging that driving standards in the US have markedly declined in recent years. From being a relaxing pleasure, driving the highways and byways of the US has become, at least for the occupants of a small passenger car, an experience fraught with risk.

Whether because the density of traffic has increased or because cars were engineered for the 55mph speed limit (introduced as an energy-saving measure in the wake of the oil crisis), the ability of many US drivers to manoeuvre and react at speed seems minimal compared to that of European drivers.

The vast lorries that ply the interstate motorway system may be subject to tough weight limits, but most states do not regulate their speed or the lanes they travel in. The result is an intimidating presence of heavy vehicles storming along the fast lanes of major routes. It is no wonder that more and more Americans are buying bigger and yet bigger cars.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?