Sometimes a piece of valid data goes counter to everything that should be true. As someone who spends a lot of time driving the interstate highways of the southeast, I’ve seen behavior behind the wheel ranging from simply bizarre to truly frightening. On my at-least-once-per-month drive to Miami (source of all car related activity in FL), I see a minimum of one serious traffic accident in each direction. On my last trip, I saw three, all of which shut down either I-95 or the Florida Turnpike; given how truly, epically bad drivers are in the Sunshine State, I’d expect bodies to be stacked along the roadside like cord wood stacked outside the Unabomber’s Montana cabin in Autumn.
That’s not the case, and the NHTSA reports that traffic deaths in the U.S. fell from 33,808 in 2009 to 32,708 in 2010. That’s the lowest number of fatalities since record keeping began in 1949; what makes it even more remarkable is that 2010 saw 21 billion more miles travelled by U.S. drivers than 2009. Ray LaHood, U.S. Transportation Secretary, attributes the decrease to safer cars and more public awareness of things like distracted driving, seat belt usage and drunken driving. While I’m all for anything that makes the roads safer (except lowering speed limits, which has the opposite effect), drivers in FL are among the least aware in the United States, rarely wear seat belts and drive cars that you’d think twice about using as the basis of a 24 Hours of LeMons car. I’d like to invite Secretary LaHood to accompany me on my next trip to Miami, just so he can see that I’m not making this up. If the roads are indeed safer in South Florida, it has nothing to do with an increase in seat belt usage, safer cars or better driver awareness.