Transcript for CDC Telebriefing: Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths

Press Briefing Transcript

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Please Note:This transcript is not edited and may contain errors.

OPERATOR: During the question-and-answer session please press star one if you’d like to ask a question. Today’s conference is being recorded.  If you have any objections please disconnect at this time. At this time, I’d like to turn the call over to Kathy Harben. You May begin.

KATHY HARBEN: Thank you Shirley, and thank you all for joining us today for the release of a new CDC Vital Signs. This one is on an international comparison of motor vehicle crash deaths. We’re joined today by the director of CDC’s national center for injury prevention and control Dr. Debra Houry, we will share information about what can be done to prevent these crash deaths and help keep everyone safe and secure on our nation’s roads. I’d like to turn the call over now to Dr. Houry.

DR. HOURY: Thank you, Kathy and thank you all for joining us today to discuss CDC’s Vital Signs Report. Each month, we focus on the latest data about one of the critical health issues facing our nation and what can be done about it. This month our topic is motor vehicle crash deaths and how the U.S. is doing compared with 19 other high-income countries. As the Director of CDC’s Injury Center, I can say that this is one of our center’s priorities and one that we deem to be a public health winnable battle for our agency. As an emergency physician, I’ve seen firsthand the devastation and impact of motor vehicle crashes on individuals and families. And as a public health practitioner here at CDC, I can share what we know works to help prevent crash deaths and injuries. Each day about 90 people die from motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. Although significant progress has been made in reducing motor vehicle crash deaths in the United States, we can and must do better in the U.S. using strategies that we know work.

The bottom line is, in 2013, the U.S. had the highest rate of motor vehicle crash deaths compared with 19 other high-income countries. Not only that but all other 19 countries surpassed the U.S in reducing the number of (add back in) crash death rates in their countries over a 13-year period. To be more specific, from 2000 – 2013 road traffic death rates in the U.S. fell 31 percent. While we are happy to see this decrease, during the same time, the average reduction among 19 other high-income countries was 56 percent. Even when accounting for population size and number of registered vehicles, the U.S. still had the highest rate of motor vehicle crash deaths. If you look at the major factors contributing to motor vehicle crashes in the U.S., the top three are; alcohol impaired driving, driving at excess speeds and not using seatbelts, car seats and booster seats. In fact, compared with other high-income countries, the United States had the second highest percentage of deaths involving alcohol and the third lowest front seatbelt use. In the U.S. in 2013 there were more than 32,000 motor vehicle crash deaths. And those deaths cost approximately 380 million dollars in direct medical costs.

It’s important to note that 1 in 3 deaths involve alcohol-impaired driving and almost 1 in 3 deaths involve speeding. Seeing that other high income countries are doing better, we know we can do better too. If the U.S motor vehicle crash death rates were reduced to just match the average rate of the 19 other high-income countries we would have 18,000 fewer deaths and potentially avert210 million dollars in medical costs each year.

The findings included in today’s vital signs provide critical information to reassess our progress and set new goals. We’ve studied this issue for decades and we know what works for prevention – increasing seatbelt, car seat and booster seat use, reducing alcohol-impaired driving could have the most effective and immediate impact. For example, we know seat belts saves lives. In 2013, more than 12,500 Americans lives were saved by buckling up. And yet not everyone wears their seatbelts or properly buckles their children up on every trip. In fact, about half of drivers and passengers who die in crashes in the U.S. are not buckled up. This is even true for children, 38 percent of children 12 and under who died in crashes in 2013 were not buckled up. We can do better. As detailed in the Vital Signs report to keep people safer, states could help amplify evidence based palliative practices and support traffic safety. States can increase seatbelt use with primary enforcement seat belt laws that cover everyone. Consider requiring car seats for children through at least age 8; prevent drunk driving by using interventions such as ignition interlocks; and consider implementing vision zero – a road safety approach that deems death and severe injury on our roads unacceptable and preventable. Along with implementing effective strategies and programs, each of us can take action to reduce crash deaths and protect ourselves and others.

Having just returned from celebrating Independence Day, which happens to be one of the deadliest days on our roads, and as we move into the summer season of vacations and road trips for many families across our country it’s important for all of us to embrace road safety as responsible drivers and passengers. We all should use a seatbelt in every seat on every trip no matter how short. Make sure children are always properly buckledand in the backseat. Choose not to drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs and help others to do the same. Obey speed limits and drive without distractions. As part of the global community, we play a larger role in world wide efforts to improve motor vehicle crash deaths and as the federal government, our responsibility is to track the nation’s progress and reduce crash injuries and deaths; evaluate and encourage use of proven programs and policies, collaborate with our partners including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the World Health Organization and provide guidance resources and tools to state local, tribal and federal partners. It is important to compare us not only to our past but to our potential. Fewer deaths for motor vehicle crashes in other countries means we can learn from others and do better here in the US to protect the lives of American reducing deaths on our roads requires efforts from many stakeholders including public health, transportation, law enforcement, decision makers as well as individuals. Everyone can do their part to be safe, keep others safe and in turn save lives.

KATHY HARBEN: Thank you Dr. Houry. Shirley, I believe we’re ready for questions now.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We will now begin our question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press star, followed by one. You will be prompted to record your name. To withdraw your request please press star followed by 2. You will be able to ask one question and one follow up. And again press star, followed by one to ask a question. One moment please for our first question.

OPERATOR: Our first question comes from Mike Stobbe with Associated Press. You may ask your question.

MIKE STOBBE: Thank you for taking my call. First, I just want to clarify. When we’re talking about motor vehicle deaths, we’re talking about people who die inside motor vehicles right? We’re not including people, pedestrians or bicyclists who were hit by cars. Second, I wanted you ask could you speak a little bit more you talked about the decline in the United States from 2000 – 2013 the 31 percent but it was not as great as the decline seen in the comparison countries. Why was the decline greater in the comparison countries do you think? Even though you accounted for population size and other factors. And I’m sorry if I can squeeze in one more – If you had broadened the comparison to less affluent countries, countries in Africa and throughout Asia, and other places, would we still be so bad or how would we stack up against those? Thank you.

DR. HOURY: Hi Mike, I’m going to turn the first question over to Erin and then I’m will answer your second and third question. Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz, is the lead author on this MMWR and is here with me today to help answer questions as well.

ERIN SAUBER-SCHATZ: Hi Mike, Actually we included all road users that were involved in a motor vehicle crash in this study. So for the United States, that included of those deaths in 2013 64.5 percent were occupants, so drivers and passengers;14.5 percent were pedestrians involved in a motor vehicle crash, 14.3 percent were motorcyclists, 2.3 were bicyclists and 4.4 were other or unspecified road users.

DR. HOURY: And to address your question about what other countries are doing that we could be doing and its really doing what we are already know that works but doing it all the time. Other countries have policies that address primary enforcements seatbelt laws for everyone in every seat, so both front seat and back seat. And require car seats and booster seats for child passengers through at least age 8. Other countries have lower blood alcohol concentration levels. And in our country things we could do to improve impaired driving will be to use ignition interlocks as well as have publicized sobriety checkpoints. With regards to other countries such as those in Africa, there’s a recent paper through the World Health Organization Bulletin that shows variable rates. Part of the issue is we don’t have great data on different countries in Africa. Some have lower rates and some have higher rates than the U.S.

KATHY HARBEN: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Again just press star followed by 1 to ask a question. Our next question comes from Kimberly Leonard with U.S. News World and Report. Your line is open.

KIMBERLY LEONARD: Hi. Thank you for taking my question. In looking over the data I couldn’t help but notice just a couple of things that kind of stood out to me. First of all, even though they have a lower blood alcohol concentration level in certain countries, I noted, in addition, that other countries have a lower drinking age but then they also have a higher age at which teens, I guess, are allowed to drive at all or drive a car. I was wondering was that taken into account. Kids are allowed to drink while they’re younger but they are also not allowed to drive until they are older.

ERIN SAUBER-SCHATZ: This is Erin Sauber-Schatz. I’ll address that. So really it is difficult to tease out the different pieces of road safety because it’s a complex issue. to really determine which countries put certain interventions into place that really helped  drive the decrease. For instance in the United states, we know that we have done a good job in graduated drivers licensing systems for teens, however, motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death among teens and we know we can still make improvements in graduated drivers licensing here in the United States. So, where as in other countries they have done more inclusive, comprehensive work in all aspects of road safety. For instance in Sweden where Vision Zero first originated, they have really focused on speed; so they have traffic calming measures; they have speed cameras throughout their country and they have really cracked down on all aspects of road safety in order to really try to get to zero deaths in Sweden.


KATHY HARBEN: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Sta Ziv with Newsweek. Your Line is open.

STA ZIV: Hi thank you for taking my question. Two quick ones actually. One is you talk about a decrease from 2000 to 2013 but recent data released from the National Safety Council for 2015 shows that the decrease has not continued. It actually between 2013 and 2015, the U.S. has seen an increase in deaths and I was hoping you might be able to address that. The other quick question is that same council fights distracted driving, texting and so forth as one of the top three causes of injury I believe or deaths and I was hoping you could address that as well, how distracted driving fits into this picture.

DR. HOURY: This is Dr. Houry. I will start and then turn it over to Dr. Sauber-Schatz to really dive a bit deeper into the data. But I think what we’ve seen with the 2015 data is that due to some improvements in the economy and people being on the road more, we’re seeing an increase in deaths. I think for me the takeaway is we can do things even better, if people buckled up 100 percent of the time, we’d have 3,000 fewer deaths and if we’re able to get alcohol-impaired driving down, nearly 10,000 fewer deaths. So  it’s the number of drivers going up and the number of miles, we need to make sure we’re really enforcing and using theseproven strategies.

ERIN SAUBER-SCHATZ:  This is Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz. So that increase data came out last Friday from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and you’re correct. For 2015 the numbers went up to 35,200 as an estimate 2015; which is the highest number of deaths we’ve seen since 2008. However, I would like to say for distracted driving, the contribution for distracted driving is about 10 percent of fatal crashes and about 18 percent of injury crashes. And when we say distracted driving, we mean all forms of distractions not just cell phone use and texting while driving. It’s anything that takes your hands off the wheel or eyes off the road or your mind off of driving, that’s distracted driving. If you compare that 10 percent to over about  31 percent or a third of the fatalities in the United States being alcohol-impaired driving you can see that  really one of the major risk factors is alcohol impaired driving. Similarly we have over 9,500 deaths in the United States due to speed and of motor vehicle occupants, who die in crashes (so drivers and passengers in vehicles), we have over 9,500 deaths there as well. So really the major risk factors which is also why we highlighted these in our report are alcohol-impaired driving, speed and lack of using seatbelts, car seats and booster seats.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our Next question comes from Ren Chang with The Sound of Hope Radio. Your Line is now open.

OPERATOR: We’ll move on with our next question from Mitchell Schmidt with the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Your Line is now open.

MITCHELL SCHMIDT: Hi thank you for taking my call. I appreciate it. I just wanted to check a little on the study. Obviously the United States is at the top for number of crash death statistics. One of the ones I noticed was vehicle miles traveled is incredibly high compared to some of these other countries as well as total number of registered vehicles. I was wondering if you could talk about how that sort of weighs into the study and if that has any sort of  impact on these findings.

ERIN SAUBER-SCHATZ:  This is Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz. Part of the reason that we calculated the rates both by population and then by 100 million vehicle miles traveled as well as registered vehicles was for the specific points that you pointed out. So the United States is very large in size country  compared to many of the other high income countries that we compared and so by calculating the rates by 100 million vehicle miles traveled as well as registered vehicles we were able to account for some of the differences between the different countries and their size, number of vehicles and also the miles traveled. And even when accounting for those differences, we still had the highest rate of death per population as well as per 10,000 registered vehicles. So the bottom line is in the United States we are still ranking – we are not performing as well as other high income countries that are similar to us in many other aspects. So we know that there’s more we can do to prevent death and injuries on our roads, and we know what works in motor vehicle injury prevention, which is why we at CDC see it [motor vehicle injury prevention] as a winnable battle. We need everyone to do their part to put things [interventions] into place so that we can save lives and prevent injury.

KATHY HARBEN: Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mike Stobbe with Associated Press. Your Line is open.

MIKE STOBBE: Hi, Thanks. Sorry for all the bonus questions, channeling on to Mtchell Schimdt’s question. I’m glad he brought that up because some experts have said what’s going on in the United States is partly attributable to Americans tend to spend more time in cars, we rely on personal vehicles more than people in other countries so more time om the road equals more risk. Are you saying that measure of motor vehicle crash deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled gets at that or is there some other measure that calculates the chance of death per 100 miles traveled per U.S. individual. And the motor vehicle crash deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled were not the worst, are we? We’re kind of high. It looks like Japan is higher and some other countries. If you could further clarify that.

ERIN SAUBER-SCHATZ: Mike, this is Erin. You’re correct so the 100 million vehicle miles traveled that’s typically an indicator that road safety field or the motor vehicle injury prevention field uses to get at the exposure to driving, right? So the more you’re on the road the more you’re exposed to the potential for a crash,for longerso we do take that in to account. Which is why both CDC and NHTSA typically report things in 100 million vehicle miles traveled. And then can you repeat the second part of your question it just slipped my mind.

MIKE STOBBE: I’m not sure, is there another measure that we have for accounting for that or is there some other calculation that’s been done to – that better accounts for if you took a hundred miles driven by an American compared to a hundred miles driven by a person in France what the risk is?

ERIN SAUBER-SCHATZ: So Yeah, Mike. That is the best rate that we have to account for that exposure. And the other piece of your question was about Japan. The higher death rate in Japan some of that is that they have a higher number of deaths but a lower vehicle miles traveled so the rate appears to be elevated in Japan. And then another thing that I can talk about in the United States, the difference between rural and urban comparison and so we do know that fewer people live in rural America but a higher percentage of crashes occur in rural areas. In fact, about 54 percent of fatal traffic crashes occur in rural areas – let me rephrase that, traffic fatalities. So 54 percent of people who died in crashes, died in a rural area versus an urban area.

OPERATOR: Again just press star followed by 1 to ask a question. Again that is star followed by 1. Our next question comes from Sta Ziv with NewsWeek. Your Line is open.

Sta Ziv: Hi, thank you. Just to follow up I wanted to clarify, you mentioned numbers from NHTSA I believe came out for 2015 at about 35,000 people killed on the roads. That is different from an estimate released a few months ago by the National Safety Council, a little more than 38,000 and also the numbers that the Safety Council has released for an estimated major causes of alcohol, speed and distracted driving are quite different with alcohol and speed at about 30 percent and distracted  driving at about 26 percent. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what might account for those differences in numbers and what data we should be relying on. Thank you.

ERIN SAUBER-SCHATZ: I have to guess at the higher numbers that you mentioned, so it says 35,200 for the estimated number of deaths in 2015 was just released on Friday and this is the full year estimate that came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Previously the estimate was only for the first nine months of 2015, so the data that came out on Friday are an update of the full year. I know that the first nine months it had been projected about 9.3 percent increase and the current projected increase for 2015 is 7.7 percent. Some of that is variation in having a full year of estimated data at this point in time versus the first nine months. And about distracted driving, so this leads into another topic area that I can briefly discuss. One of the limitations that we have in motor vehicle injury prevention is high quality data. We have better quality data for our deaths than we do for injuries. A lot of our information at the crash scene comes from police reports and some of the information comes from the people at the scene. So for a thing such as distracted driving, there will be variations between the numbers based on the source of the data. If it’s self-reported distracted driving, so if a person admits to driving while distracted, that percentage could be there. The number that I am speaking of comes for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from fatal data, so of people that died in crashes. There will be variation in the percentage of distracted driving based on the source of the data. Depending if it’s fatalities or self-reported data, so that can account for some of that variation. Simply stated, we can make improvements in our data, our collection as well as our linking data in the United States that will provide us with more opportunities to better understand not only fatal crashes, but also the non-fatal crashes. So if we have the ability to link police reports with our hospital data, our EMS runs and even toxicology, we will be better able to really understand and research all of the pieces that go into increasing crash risks, as well as preventing injuries and fatalities. So we can have improvements in data moving forward.

Sta Ziv: Thank you.

KATHY HARBEN: We have time for one more question.

OPERATOR: Thank you and that comes from Jordan Golson with The Verge. Your Line is Open.

KATHY HARBEN: We’re not able to hear you.

JORDAN GOLSON: Sorry, Can you hear me now? Just a follow up on your statement about 54 percent of traffic fatalities occurring in rural areas. Do you have a number for the deaths per 100 million miles in urban versus rural.

ERIN SAUBER-SCHATZ: This is Erin. I’m looking.

JORDAN GOLSON: I’m assuming it’s going to be quite a bit higher.

ERIN SAUBER-SCHATZ: I don’t have that now, but if you contact us we can try to find that number that I can share with you.

JORDAN GOLSON: Ok. And is there a good source for comparing – I guess every country is a little bit different in who you get the numbers from but is there a good source that we can get all the numbers on the 100 million vehicle miles fatalities for all these countries?

ERIN SAUBER-SCHATZ: So one of our data sources was the  Global status report on road safety  that came out in 2015. That status report is packed with information not only on the high income countries that we reported on but really I believe its 97.5 percent of the world’s population is accounted for in this report so you can look into the global status report to find more information on all of the different countries. As well for the vehicle miles traveled, there is the IRTAD report as well that you can get information on that. It’s the road safety report for 2015 – and that’s the OECD IRTAD Road Safety Report for 2015.

DR. HOURY: I’d like to thank you all for listening us today. We look forward to answering any follow-up questions you may have after this. This is Dr. Houry. I just wanted to close by saying what I said earlier in the telebriefing that it is really important not only compare us to our past but our potential. The United States has made good strides in the past 13 years in reducing car crash deaths but we can do even better. Through proven strategies such as buckling up whether you’re the driver or the passenger, front seat or back seat. As well as with children, ensuring that they’re buckled all the time. Reducing impaired driving – and also ensuring that we follow safety limits. These three strategies have the impact of reduce death significantly. When we look at other countries and we see the progress they’ve made, I know that we can do this as well and even better following these proven methods. Thank you.

KATHY HARBEN: And I just want to be sure that everyone has the correct spelling for Dr. Sauber-Schatz’ name. Its Erin, E-R-I-N, Sauber, S-AU-B-E-R, -Schatz, S-C-H-A-T-Z and she is a PhD. Thank you Dr. Houry and Dr. Sauber-Schatz for joining us today as well as a thank you to all of the reporters who joined us. For follow up questions you can call the press office at 404-639-3286 or send us an email at Thank you for joining us this concludes our call.

OPERATOR: this concludes the CDC conference.  Thank you so much for joining.  You may disconnect at this time.


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