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U.S. kids die from traffic fatalities at twice the rate of other wealthy nations

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A study calls on Americans to do “everything possible” to address these preventable deaths

Children, like the elderly, are more likely to die from injuries sustained from crashes. In Los Angeles County, traffic fatalities are the leading cause of death for children, according to the county’s health department.
Photo by Medgar Parrish for LADOT

In a chilling study that looks at the child mortality rates of 20 wealthy democratic nations, U.S. kids fared worst out of all the countries. Our cars are partially to blame: American children are twice as likely to die in traffic fatalities compared to other wealthy nations.

The study, published in Health Affairs this month, compared child mortality rates in 20 wealthy, democratic countries since 1960. Over the last half century, the rate of childhood death decreased in all nations except the U.S. A child born in the United States today has a 70 percent greater chance of dying before age 20 than in those countries.

“All U.S. policymakers, pediatric health professionals, child health advocates, and families should be troubled by these findings,” reads the study. “The findings should motivate Americans to do everything possible to improve the medical and social conditions of children that are responsible for these preventable deaths.”

As Vox reports, the study’s authors attribute the U.S.’s high child mortality rate to its “fragmented” health care system, with insufficient preventative treatment due to lack of coverage and high childhood poverty rates in certain regions. Access to guns is highlighted as a “disturbing disparity” as teenagers are 82 times more likely to die from gun violence in the U.S.

But the motor vehicle deaths are cited as particularly preventable, because other countries are succeeding in preventing them, according to the study. Road fatalities have decreased universally over the last few decades due to campaigns targeting drunk driving and new safety innovations in cars.

However, the other 19 countries are decreasing their road fatalities at much faster rates: The U.S. reduced road fatalities by 23 percent from 2000 to 2011, while the other 19 countries reduced rates by 26 to 64 percent over the same period.

That’s why transportation planners in the U.S. are borrowing preventative methods from those other countries—and two big U.S. cities have just proved that their approaches are working. This week, both San Francisco and New York City reported their lowest number of traffic fatalities since the introduction of the automobile to their cities a century ago.

This study also confirms that it’s not smartphones, or “distracted walking,” that’s to blame for the U.S.’s sudden uptick in traffic deaths. These 19 countries are our peer countries: They also drive cars, they use smartphones, they have comparable wealth and resources. The countries which have focused on redesigning their streets to be safe for all ages and building reliable, well-maintained public transit systems will save their kids’ lives. Our over-reliance on cars will continue to erode the health and well-being of the next generation.