Road safety

The economic crisis crippling Portugal has had at least one silver lining: deaths from traffic collisions are way down. People can’t afford gas and they can’t afford the new tolls, so they’re staying off the roads. Fewer cars = fewer collisions.

I can personally attest to the lack of cars on the Algarve’s main motorway, the A22, since the tolls went into effect. Every time we drive it (which is quite a bit less than we used to; we’re avoiding it like everyone else), I keep thinking of those post-apocalyptic movies where the protagonists drive their car down an utterly empty freeway. When we returned from Lisboa a few weeks back, I counted a grand total of 11 cars in either direction for the 15 miles (24 km) that we were on the A22.

Our local paper says that annual road fatalities for the Algarve were down 30% from the previous year, and 15% for Portugal as a whole. Total road deaths have now dropped to a level not seen since 1960. The paper also noted that another difference between now and then is that while there are over six million cars on the Portuguese roads today, in 1960 that number was around 200,000.

I look at those numbers and think, holy moly, driving was dangerous in 1960!

Which brought to mind a video my dad sent, showing a crash test between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu. Those old cars looked solid, but they were death traps. I’ll stick with our little Honda and its airbags, and continue to enjoy occasional trips on the toll road. These days I think the A in A22 stands for Apocalyptic.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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10 Responses to Road safety

  1. Lilaine says:

    Those increasing traffic costs(everywhere) drive me Mad, at Max speed.
    My butt and thighs hurt from riding my bike more and more often. 😮

    There are a number of things that make the roads ‘safer'(as in less fatal casualties) nowadays, but I don’t think the numbers are correctly compared: in 1960, as you can see in the video, a frontal crash was fatal. Not now. That only does not make the 1960 roads more dangerous, just that any crash was potentially fatal.
    It could be interesting to compare number of accidents/number of vehicles then and now, too. Problem is, in the 60’s, not all accidents were identified and listed for statistical studies…. by insurances companies… in order to increase regularly our premiums. 😛
    But, the roads where really dangerous then, indeed. Some (many) crossroads were famous serial killers.

    • oregon expat says:

      Those increasing traffic costs(everywhere) drive me Mad, at Max speed.

      Well said!

    • Inge says:

      Maybe kilometers driven would be better than the number of cars. Nowadays there are cars (seconds, thirds,..) that are barely being driven.

      But what i wanted to mention is that today the number of accidents is correctly registered either. Here in Belgium the estimate is that about 10% of the dead aren’t registered, 50% of the badly wounded and you don’t want to know about the accidents themselves. There is a huge missing of information.. Why? Because every accident leads to an increase in your insurance, so you don’t report what you don’t have to. 🙂 So i’m not sure we have really improved so much.. back then every accident was a ‘local’ news-item, now…

      • oregon expat says:

        Good point about the second and third cars, but how the heck are fatal crashes not reported? It’s kind of hard to get rid of the evidence.

        • Inge says:

          The registered ‘dead’ are by definition those that die sometime in the accident or during the next 30 days. If that person survives just a bit longer they are not registered as dead.

          Secondly, and according to research usually between family-members, sometimes accidents happen not on the public road but on private terrain. Family (sometimes) tries to represent it as something else but not an accident (insurance again), so depending on the police-results, it actually doesn’t get a qualifier as accident though it happened with a car,…

          If memory serves me right, Europe uses similar quotes for unregistration for most countries that have a ‘good’ registering policy. For a couple of countries however it’s even higher.

  2. xenatuba says:

    I don’t know about stats…I have to assume that most events are under reported. I do know about the engineering in vehicles today. Crashes that were fatal crashes 15 or 20 years ago are now walk aways. There are more cars on the road, and they are traveling WAY faster than ever. I suspect that traffic engineering has improved many roadways and sight lines. Medical response is much better, and the advances in ER care also save lives.

    I suspect that comparing then and now overall is like comparing then and now with vehicles…almost different enough to be non-comparable. I just like not seeing as many dead folks in crashes.

    • Inge says:

      I looked it up, interestingly the us uses something similar but not quite..

      I quote: “The definition of a road-traffic fatality varies from country to country. In the United States, the definition used in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS)[48] run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a person who dies within 30 days of a crash on a US public road involving a vehicle with an engine, the death being the result of the crash. In the U.S., therefore, if a driver has a non-fatal heart attack that leads to a road-traffic crash that causes death, that is a road-traffic fatality. However, if the heart attack causes death prior to the crash, then that is not a road-traffic fatality.”

      So the us even needs a vehicle with an engine in order to be registered as a fatality of traffic. In belgium a death caused by bikes colliding also gets registered, but perhaps that has to do with the modes of transport used. Maybe there are not many bikes in the us?

      • Lilaine says:

        Do you know if they count non fatal ‘little deaths’ causing the fatal crash in the road fatalities? 😮

        Maybe there are not many bikes in the us?

        I’ve read somewhere there are many bikes on the roads of Oregon in September. 😉
        And Greg Lemond is American… 🙂
        Even the cops are riding bikes.

      • oregon expat says:

        This is fascinating! I had no idea about the 30-day requirement, though when I think about it, it makes sense.

        Regarding American bicycle fatalities not being registered, this has to do with the overall disdain in which the US legal system currently holds drivers of anything other than cars — and that includes motorcycles and scooters as well as bicycles. Attitudes are slowly changing, in some areas, but you’d be amazed at the vitriol you can find in the comments section of any news article regarding bicycle lanes, cyclist/motorcyclist rights, etc. In some areas it is out and out war between drivers and cyclists, and angry drivers using their cars as weapons against cyclists is not unheard of. (I just read an account of a bus driver being sentenced for intentionally hitting a cyclist with his BUS.)

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