ND Traffic Safety May Actually Be Improving During Oil Boom

05-25-11_-_trucks

News reports are circulating indicating that, with a little more than a month to go in 2012, North Dakota has already surpassed the number of traffic fatalities from all of 2011.

North Dakota traffic fatalities have topped last year’s rate. One hundred fifty people people have died on roads this year-that’s two deaths higher than last year’s record, and there’s still a month to go.

This will no doubt get tongues wagging among the anti-oil folks in the state, but let’s remember that raw fatality numbers aren’t really a useful metric for traffic safety. Those numbers must be put into the context of increases or decreases in traffic.

It’s a sure bet that the number of vehicles on North Dakota roads, and the number of vehicle miles driven, went up in 2012. If that’s true, and fatalities went up only by two, then it could well be that the state’s traffic fatality rate has fallen despite an increase in traffic on our roads.

But whatever the outcome of the 2012 statistics, a review of traffic fatality rates in North Dakota (see the 2011 Crash Report) shows that we haven’t really seen any sort of a significant increase during the oil boom years. The 2011 rate was certainly up from 2010, but it was down from 2009. Truth be told, safety figures in the state are pretty flat:

If our roads were as unsafe due to increased oil boom traffic as some sensationalist reporters, and some political activists, would have us believe then we should be seeing a spike in fatality rates. We’re not.

And let’s not forget that oil traffic isn’t the only variable here. Seat belt use has been in decline for the last several years, which has no doubt contributed to an increase in traffic fatalities (also via the 2011 Crash Report):

Usually the final tally for traffic safety is reported just after the first of the year. It will be interesting to see how 2012 shaped up, but you can bet that the media will almost certainly report the numbers with little or no context, and that any perceived decrease in safety will be blamed on the oil boom.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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