Boston has one of the lowest rates in the nation for motor vehicle deaths, not too surprising given its tough helmet laws for motorcycle riders and restrictions on new drivers. Boston’s death rate from car accidents was 5 per 100,000 residents in 2009, compared to a national average of 11 per 100,000, according to a new report issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the city’s fatality rate for young drivers isn’t so heartening: 10 per 100,000 Boston residents aged 15 to 24 die every year from car accidents, and the report found that nearly one-quarter of the 35,000 deaths that occur annually nationwide are in that younger age group. In fact, driving accidents are the leading cause of death in young adults, beating out disease, violent crimes, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicides.
Some of the variation in accident death rates have to do with urban sprawl, according to the CDC. New York City has a high population density and low rate of drivers, which probably accounts for its super low death rate of just under 4 per 100,000; its death rate in young adults is only slightly higher -- probably because most take public transportation.
Southern cities, like Nashville, Memphis, and Birmingham, tend to be more sprawling and have vehicular death rates that are three or four times as high as New York’s and Boston’s. That could account for some of the differences in death rates among cities, said CDC officials in the report.
While little can be done to reduce urban sprawl, certain prevention strategies might help lower the rate of driving deaths among teens and young adults who have less driving experience, are less likely to use seat belts, and are more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol than older adults.
The CDC recommended that states implement laws that require seat belt use, place restrictions on new drivers until they gain more experience as well as strong prevention policies to deter drunk driving including sobriety checkpoints and mandatory ignition locks -- that require a breath test to open -- for all convicted drunk drivers.
Massachusetts requires passengers and drivers to wear seat belts, but a police officer can’t pull a driver over for not wearing one unless there’s another driving offense committed. The state does have tough restrictions for teen drivers -- banning all drivers under age 18 from using a cellphone. Texting is prohibited for drivers of all ages. The state doesn’t, though, require ignition locks for convicted drunk drivers.