Some of the reduction in traffic deaths can be attributed to fewer miles being driven due to the recession and high gas prices.


magine if there were no deaths at all on the roadways. Seems impossible, doesn't it? But some states are aiming for that goal. About 30 states are working on the idea, as unlikely as it might be to achieve. The so-called "zero deaths" policy aims at reducing the number of fatalities from automobile crashes to zero.

Since auto accidents themselves are unlikely to go away completely as long as humans are behind the wheel, the goal is instead to reduce the amount of crash-related fatalities to zero.

A University of Minnesota study shows that the states that have been working the longest on what the Chicago Tribune calls the four E's: education, engineering, enforcement, and emergency medical services, have done the best at reducing fatalities. Washington and Minnesota were the first two states to work on these goals, and Utah and Idaho have also had programs that have reduced the amount of fatalities, according to the Tribune.

Some of the reduction in traffic deaths can be attributed to fewer miles being driven due to the recession and high gas prices, but one of the study's authors says there's more to it than that.

We spoke to study leader Lee Munnich, Director of the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety at the University of Minnesota. He pointed to several reasons why these programs are cutting the amount of deaths.

Zero traffic deaths Zero traffic deaths is the goal.

"[The programs are] very comprehensive and very data-driven," he said. "What we're trying to find out is do [the programs] make a difference and our study found that they do."

Munnich said that deaths occur more frequently in rural areas than urban areas, even though more crashes occur in urban areas. This is because emergency services are better in urban areas.

According to Munnich, the problem with rural areas, in addition to the lack of emergency services, is a combination of road design, which can sometimes be poor (for example, roads that are designed in such a way that drivers have to make dangerous turns across traffic), and behavior.

"There are some things that can be done from an engineering perspective to address fatalities in rural areas," Munnich said. "In rural areas, a lot of it is related to behavior." He cited higher vehicle speeds and a lack of seat-belt use.

Munnich also said that teen driving still contributes to traffic deaths, especially in this age of driver distraction. Teens are the least experienced drivers on the road, and the availabilty of smartphones and similar devices leads to distracted driving.

Munnich said one reason zero-deaths have been successful in driving down deaths, even if the goal of literally zero deaths is impossible to achieve, is that these programs focus and combine various efforts by authorities. He also said that the approach isn't one-size fits all.

"There isn't one approach, and each state may have a different set of issues that needs to be addressed."

Better safety technology and better driver behavior have reduced fatalities (in Illinois, for example, fatalities are roughly half of what they were in the '70s), along with better road design and law enforcement. We may never see zero deaths, but if these programs continue to cut down on the carnage, they will be proving their worth.