Today is the 2 year anniversary of May 26, 2014, on which 76 people died on the U.S. public roadways. I know this, because I went through the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) database for 2014, and counted them.
I have been toying with the idea of digging deeper into the who, what, when, where, and how of highway deaths. I believe knowing more about the deaths themselves will enable me to better understand countermeasures to prevent these deaths. This is mostly a mental exercise, as I doubt that even if I knew the exact answer, I’d be able to do all that much about it, all by myself. Nevertheless, I think there is some satisfaction in knowing. Also, I do think that some of the solution to less death on the road is publicity, so this is a very small step in that direction.
NHTSA publishes annual databases from their Fatality Analysis Report System (FARS). These databases identify every fatal accident in the U.S. for that year, plus the vehicles and generic information about the persons involved in said accidents. The various police departments throughout the country submit relatively standardized accident reports to NHTSA, who populate this database. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works. The database is 99.99% complete, or so I think. In other words, if someone got killed in a car wreck in the U.S., that accident is almost certainly in the database.
The databases identify nearly everything about the accident, except the names of the participants themselves. It identifies the exact location, by means of latitude and longitude. That’s where I start. First, I find the location on Google Maps. Then I start googling the date of the accident, and the location, to see if I find any news articles regarding the accident.
This is one of my findings; it’s surprising how many of these accidents draw blanks on the Internet. IE: the accident happened, someone got killed, and it never made any news.
I am looking for the names of the participants in the accident. Once I have that, then I can pretty well find everything that’s been written about the accident. If you google, ‘may 26, 2014 accident, Birdsboro, pa’, you might find it, and you might not. But, if you google, ‘john jacob jingleheimerschmidt may 26 2014 accident’, that’s going to bring it right up.
Of the 76 dead, I was able to specifically identify, by name, 58, which is 76.3%. I think a few of the missing names might be floating around out there somewhere on the Internet, but I couldn’t find them. I’m certain most of the missing 18 names aren’t out there. The government has them on their official accident reports, but they are not on the Internet.
I picked the year 2014, because that’s the most recent year for which FARS has data available. I picked May 26, for no particular reason, other than it was the first day in the week which mirrors the Life magazine article about the Vietnam War dead. It also happens to have been Memorial Day, so there’s that.
There were 32,675 people who died on U.S. roadways in 2014. This works out to an average of 89 deaths per day. 76 died on May 26, 2014, so this was a good day in terms of death. It is probably attributable to the fact it was a holiday, Memorial Day, and less people were driving.
Most people were killed in the afternoon hours of 1:00p – 6:59p. 44 of the 76 were killed in these hours, which is 57.9%. This is predictable; these are the hours when most people are on the road.
The longest gap when no one got killed was 2 hours and 8 minutes, which occurred between 3:45a – 5:53a.
There were 29 definite drunk accidents. FARS defines a ‘drunk’ accident as having any measurable amount of alcohol in your system. I would argue with their definition. In other words, a BAC of .02, .03, .04, probably had little or nothing to do with the accident, and was not ‘drunk’. However, for simplicity’s sake, I am using their definition. In my definition, I am also including drugs. I think FARS does something similar. If a driver tested positive for drugs, I am considering that ‘drunk’. So counting the alcohol and the drugs, there were 29 drunk accidents.
There were another 7 possible drunk accidents. I say possible, because the police did not test for alcohol. One of the data fields captured in the database is whether or not an alcohol test was conducted on each driver. On 7 of the dead, the police did not conduct any sort of alcohol tests. I guess it’s not a 100% certainty the police test in every fatality. For example, the police work an accident where someone wraps themselves around a tree. There’s empty beer cans and liquor bottles strewn all over the ground. I guess they simply say, ‘what’s point of testing? It’s obvious the driver was drunk, why bother?’
At any rate, there were 7 accidents where someone was killed, and judging by the other facts surrounding the accident, I think it’s possible, if not probable, the driver was drunk, but no alcohol test was conducted by the police.
Of the 29 drunk accidents, the drunk was killed in 20 of them. This is something many people don’t know. Most drunk drivers usually kill themselves.
Sadly, that doesn’t always happen. In the 29 drunk accidents, the drunks also killed 9 other people.
The average BAC of the drunk in the drunk accidents was .19. .19!! To refresh your memory, the legal limit is .08. The average BAC of our sample of drunk drivers was .19. That’s smashed. That’s a 200 pound man downing 10 pints of light beer in 3 hours. That’s a pint every 18 minutes. Compared to the general population, I’m a pretty heavy drinker, and I can tell you, .19 is extreme. It’s ridiculous, it’s dangerous, and it should not be tolerated, if the car keys are anywhere near the powerdrinker in question.
I found this very significant, and supports what I have always suspected. The national .08 BAC legal limit is way too low. The .01 – .10 drivers aren’t the problem. It’s the alcoholic idiots who just can’t help themselves who are killing people. The police trolling for the .08 – .10 type drunks are just wasting resources, which could be better spent looking for the hardcore morons.
Some more findings
The smallest state with a fatality was North Dakota.
The largest state without one was Arizona.
Of the 76 dead:
46 were men.
10 were pedestrians or bicyclists
19 were motorcyclists
7 of the accidents involved Commercial Motor Vehicles. Of those accidents, in only one was the CMV at fault.
States with the most dead:
Texas and surprisingly, Michigan, tied at 9.
The total dead in cars or trucks was 45.
Of those, 23 of the dead did not have seat belts on.
There were 19 dead motorcyclists.
Of those, 13 did not have helmets on.
The average age of the dead was 45.8. The normal average age of death if 78.7. Those are a lot of years, cut short. Driving is serious business. Do it carefully!