Oklahoma Traffic Fatality Rate Twice the National Rate

SERIES: WHY IS OKLA’S TRAFFIC FATALITY RATE SO HIGH? (PART 1)

Did you know that the rate of traffic fatalities in Oklahoma is almost twice the national rate? Why are Oklahoma roads and highways so much more dangerous than the national average? Can anyone point me to a government agency, nonprofit organization or news organization that has even reported this dramatic disparity between Oklahoma and the nation?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Oklahoma had 708 traffic fatalities in 2012. With a state population that year of 3.8 million, that calculates to a fatality rate of 0.000185 per person.

Let me make that string of numbers easier to understand: That’s one fatality for every 5,405 people. In comparison, the national fatality statistic for 2012 was 33,561, which calculates to one fatality for every 9,346 people nationwide.

That makes Oklahoma’s fatality rate almost twice the national rate (173%, to be exact). Simple math indicates that if you live or are passing through Oklahoma, you are twice as likely to die in a traffic fatality than the nation as a whole.

Why is that? Does anybody know?

Many Agencies, Many Proposals

I often represent Oklahoma residents who have suffered personal injuries or the loss of loved ones in a car crash or another kind of vehicle accident. I have seen the tragic consequences, including loss of life, permanent injuries and loss of income-earning ability that can result from a traffic accident.

These experiences have given me great interest in every new study or proposal that comes along that seeks to reduce the number of traffic accidents, fatalities and injuries. Numerous federal and state agencies and nonprofit organizations are working on the problem and announcing a never-ending series of proposals. Their proposals are always accompanied with statistics to make the case.

However, as the statistics themselves reveal, the variety of factors at work in a car crash, truck crash or motorcycle accident are mind-boggling. Was the driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Was the driver speeding? What was the driver’s age? Were the occupants using seat belts and other restraints, and in the case of motorcycles, wearing helmets? What kind of vehicle was it? Did the accident happen in the city or the country?

Those questions and the corresponding statistics that answer them show how complicated it is to develop an effective strategy to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities. And those questions are just the start. Other factors that affect accident and fatality statistics include changes in the law, changes in law enforcement, and improvements in the vehicles.

Any one statistic can be misleading if quoted outside the context of the other relevant data. In the courtroom and in the media, I see statistics misused all the time to make a case. And it is not always intentional. Many even intelligent people are bewildered by mathematics. It is easy for people to mangle the math when it comes to statistics. I am reminded of what former baseball major leaguer Jim Wohlford once said: “90% of the game is half mental.”

NHTSA “Traffic Safety Facts Oklahoma”

I was reading a news article recently on alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Oklahoma that contained lots of statistics and seemed to be drawing certain conclusions. I decided to go to the source of the data, the NHTSA, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, to look at the numbers for myself. The NHTSA has a webpage called “Traffic Safety Facts Oklahoma: 2008-2012.” The page contains hundreds of relevant data points. Data for 2013 is not yet available.

In a series of blog posts starting with this one, I want to point out and comment on some of the NHTSA’s statistics about traffic safety in Oklahoma. The first and surely most important statistic is the number of traffic fatalities. It has been right around 700 to 750 for each of the last five years:

Traffic Fatalities

Oklahoma U.S.
2008 750 37,423
2009 737 33,883
2010 668 32,999
2011 696 32,470
2012 708 33,561

The good news is that there has been a decline in fatalities during the last five years, both in Oklahoma and nationwide. Nationally, traffic fatalities are down 10% from 2008 to 2012. The decline in Oklahoma is 6%.

The Sooner State was down by 11% in 2010, cutting the number of fatalities from 750 to 668, but we have given up about half of that ground in 2011 and 2012.

In a series of blog posts, I want to discuss NHTSA’s statistics on

  • Alcohol-impaired driving in Oklahoma,
  • Speeding in Oklahoma,
  •  Motorcycle accidents and fatalities in Oklahoma, and
  •  Statistics specifically for Oklahoma County.

I don’t claim to be an expert on traffic safety or traffic statistics. But it occurs to me that whenever I see statistics in the media, the source is an organization that has a vested interest in the topic. I want to offer an impartial look. I may not uncover any answers, but maybe I can at least ask some good questions, such as:

Why is my life twice as much in danger here in Oklahoma every time I get behind the wheel?

Have you or a loved one experienced injury, loss of income or loss of life due to an auto, truck or motorcycle accident? Did the accident involve drunk driving, driving under the influence, driving while impaired by drugs or speeding? If so, you need experienced legal representation. Contact an Oklahoma City car accident lawyer Hasbrook & Hasbrook immediately for a free consultation.

For more information, see our webpage: “DUI, drunk driving and speeding accidents.”