Why Have Traffic Fatalities Declined in Industrialized Countries? Implications for Pedestrians and Vehicle Occupants

49 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2005

See all articles by Elizabeth Kopits

Elizabeth Kopits

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Maureen Cropper

University of Maryland - Department of Economics; Resources for the Future

Date Written: August 2005


This paper examines whether the relationship between traffic fatalities and per capita income is the same for different classes of road users and investigates the factors underlying the decline in fatalities per vehicle kilometer traveled (VKT) observed in high-income countries over recent decades. Formal models of traffic fatalities are developed for vehicle occupants and pedestrians. Reduced-form approximations to these models are estimated using panel data for 32 high-income countries over 1964-2002. The results suggest that the downward-sloping portion of the curve relating traffic fatalities per capita to per capita income is due primarily to improved pedestrian safety. Our more detailed models shed light on some factors influencing pedestrian fatalities per VKT but much of the reduction in pedestrian fatalities remains unexplained; however, increased motorization and a reduction in the proportion of young drivers in the population clearly played a role. Occupant fatalities, however, do not show a significant decline with income. What does explain declines in occupant fatalities per distance traveled are reductions in alcohol abuse and improved medical services, and a reduction in young drivers. The importance of demographic factors suggests that in countries where young persons (between 15 and 24 years of age) comprise an increasing share of the driving population, adopting policies to improve young driver education and reduce speeds will be crucial.

Suggested Citation

Kopits, Elizabeth and Cropper, Maureen L., Why Have Traffic Fatalities Declined in Industrialized Countries? Implications for Pedestrians and Vehicle Occupants (August 2005). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 3678, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=780505 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.780505

Elizabeth Kopits (Contact Author)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ( email )

Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
United States

Maureen L. Cropper

University of Maryland - Department of Economics ( email )

College Park, MD 20742
United States

Resources for the Future ( email )

1616 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

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