What do the United States, Poland, Portugal, and Greece have in common? Lots of deaths from automobile accidents. The US ranked 27th out of 30 OECD nations in traffic deaths per capita in 2002—with 30th place (Greece) having the most deaths, and 1st (Turkey) having the fewest. By contrast, Canada ranked 12th.
Now, it’s not that the US has particularly bad drivers, or that our cars are particularly unsafe. Mile for mile, our vehicle injury rate is right in the middle of the pack; and our vehicle fatality rate, adjusted for miles driven, is actually a smidge better than the OECD average.
Instead, the reason we have so many traffic deaths and injuries is simply that we drive a lot. Part of why that’s so is that we’re affluent (meaning that we can afford to buy lots of cars) and our gas is cheap. But most of it has to do with the way our cities have grown. Sprawling community design has pushed destinations farther apart, making a car a necessity for most trips. And when you need to drive everywhere you go, you wind up taking on more risk than you’d bargained for.