Birmingham-Hoover Area Second in U.S. for Traffic Deaths in 2009

When an American city is rated second place in the nation, residents of that city usually react with feelings of pride and satisfaction.  However, when that rating is for placing second in overall traffic deaths for the year 2009, this is a rating the residents would want to change.

In a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the Birmingham-Hoover metro area had the nation’s second highest death rate from motor vehicle accidents  in the year 2009.  The study included the fifty largest metro areas in this county.  Only Memphis metro area had more motor vehicle deaths during 2009.

The CDC wrote that rates were higher in MSAs in the southern United States.  Although the CDC isn’t sure why rates are higher in southern states, they did say that urban sprawl might, in part, explain these findings.

Jim McVay, director of the Bureau of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease at the Alabama Department of Public Health, stated that metro Birmingham’s high death rate is part of Alabama’s long-standing pattern.  McVay said that Alabama has traditionally “had higher death rates on our highways.”

Steps to make highways more safe have recently been taken by the Alabama Legislature, especially for younger drivers.  One step is that of a stricter graduated driver license (GDL) that took effect in July 2010.  The law not only bans cell phones during driving, but limits the number of non-family members passengers in the younger driver’s vehicle.  This type of program is used by other states, too, to limit independent driving at first, and then, as a young driver’s skills increase, introduce the driver to more complex, higher-risk conditions. 

The latest step to create safer roads in Alabama will take effect on Wednesday, and that step is to ban texting while driving. This is not only a problem with younger drivers, but with experienced, older drivers as well.

According to the CDC, for the 15-24-year-old age group, the Birmingham metro area had the highest death rate out of the 47 largest metro areas in the country.  The seven county Birmingham-Hoover metro death rate was 25.8 deaths per 100,000, which was nearly twice as high as that of the average for the 47 metro areas, which was 13 deaths per 100,000.

The CDC editorial said that GDL has been proven to lower motor vehicle deaths, which makes sense as a young, inexperienced driver will have less passengers in his car should he be in a serious accident.   It is illegal in Alabama, for any 16 or 17 year-old driver who have had their licenses for less than six months to have more than one non-family member passenger in the vehicle while they are driving.

According to the CDC, the death rate information from the fifty metro areas can be used as a starting point to assist in determining the underlying risk factors that make some areas more dangerous than others.  The editorial noted the knowledge from the report will be used to devise “effective strategies for minimizing risks and associated deaths due to motor vehicle accidents.”