Mapping the Consequences of Our Automobile Addiction

Leave it to the Brits to create an incredible tool for examining America’s own crisis of traffic fatalities. Behold this somber map, made by ITO World, a UK-based transportation information firm. Each dot on the map is a traffic-related death. The entire eastern United States is blanketed with them.

The purple dots represent vehicle occupants – not necessarily drivers – who were killed. It may look like a lot of purple, and it certainly is, but when you zoom in closer you see a lot of blue dots, for pedestrians, as well as an awful lot of yellow dots, for motorcyclists. The green dots for bicyclists are fewer and farther between, but if you zoom into the cities, you’ll find them. Each dot even lists the year of the crash and the victim’s age and gender.

ITO World got their fatality data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It appears they’ve captured not just fatalities on highways but on local streets as well.

The World Health Organization reports 12.3 annual traffic deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in the United States. Compare that with 3.85 in Japan and 4.5 in Germany. If the U.S. achieved similar rates, more than 20,000 deaths would be prevented each year.

This map is a useful way of visualizing the terrible consequences of our auto-addicted culture. Beyond that, it can be an indispensable tool for community transportation advocates to show local officials where problem spots are and how their community compares to others.

27 thoughts on Mapping the Consequences of Our Automobile Addiction

  1. Auto addiction indeed! From the Wikipedia table you cite, I’d say that the main difference between the U.S. and Germany is not that their roads or their drivers are safer, but that they drive less. The difference in fatalities per billion vehicle-kilometers is not as dramatic: 8.5 for the U.S. vs 7.2 for Germany. There are even countries where driving is much more dangerous per distance driven, but still have fewer fatalities as a fraction of the population: for example Hungary, with 27.1 per billion vehicle-km, but “only” 9.9 per 100,000 inhabitants.

  2. A sad map, every dot a tragedy. I’m sure by now almost everyone in the U.S. has had a friend or family member killed in or by a car.

    But as a country, we accept this.  We are fundamentally fine that this is the price we pay for our auto-based lifestyle. I suspect if the casualty rate were six, ten, twenty times as high we’d still accept it now that we have made such a complete investment in a way of life based around the car. After all, we sacrifice our health, our economy, our environment, our public space, our time, our future, and our children’s future with perhaps a gripe or two but real little objection in order that our auto-based lifestyle may continue unimpeded.

    What will it take to change this? Probably fossil fuel depletion and skyrocketing energy costs. The problem is the bulk of our housing stock is situated so as to require car-dependence for access both to jobs and basic goods and services. This is not easily remedied. By and large such sprawl cannot ever be economically serviced by transit. The capital costs and energy requirements involved are just too great given the current resources and technology available to us. Housing will have to be created/retrofitted/expanded along existing transit lines or in existing higher density/walkable/bikeable/transit rich areas, and people will have to move. But I am guessing due to sunk costs and psychological attachment most Americans will be willing to spend fully half of their income on car-related costs before they cry uncle. Median American income=$49,445.  Average cost to operate a car=$8588.  So the car to income ratio is now 17.4%. Maybe I’m being pessimistic; maybe people will actually come to their senses when the percentage hits 25%. We can hope.

  3. It’s not entirely accurate: there were at least two other children killed along 3rd Avenue in Boerum Hill in the past ten years – as indicated in the mural at Butler St. The map only shows one child. 

    Great map nonetheless: already shared on Facebook. 



  4. From the genius* behind the project:

    “Two things we did not want to do. 1) We didn’t want to ever aggregate victims into statistics – we wanted every death to represent its own pile of grief. 2) We didn’t want to move the points too far from the correct location. We will schedule work to ensure that every death is visible in due course and will also be adding a feature to allow viewers to click on icons to get more details of each death and crash. We intend to build the service out to include Canada and any other countries in due course – but only for countries that can provide suitable geo-coded casualty data. We hope that this will allow as many people as possible to have information to support their advocacy for safer roads, and slower speeds or whatever else is necessary.” *that’s the word used by Simon Rogers at The Guardian, and I agree.

  5. I’m not seeing a marker for Eric Ng, the young cyclist killed on the Hudson River Greenway on Dec. 1, 2006. I’m wondering if the “passenger” icon shown at the approximate location (Clarkson St) is meant to represent his fatality.

    I agree that the map is an extraordinary reference/resource.

  6. It does not contribute to a helpful dialog to pathologize people whose behaviors differ from ones own with terms like “auto-addicted”.  The United States is not Germany, which is much more densely populated.  It is a large and sprawling country where people need to travel great distances; it always has been. For many, if not most people automobile travel is the most efficient waay to get from place to p

  7. I’m wondering how the 15 year old female vehicle occupant died miles north of the tip of Cape Cod in the Atlantic Ocean!

  8. If that many people had been killed by terrorists in last 10 years, the country would be in an absolute panic, but it’s only cars, so *shrug* whatever.

    It really is stunning.

  9. The map is purple, for vehicle occupants killed. But zoom in on NYC and it turns blue and green, for pedestrians and cyclists killed.

  10.  ddartleyAs a reader from the antipodes – can we have something like this for New Zealand – this data is invaluable!

  11. @f6641cd96b9983064e99d6a686edc2d6:disqus , ha, I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to suggest *I* was the person behind this amazing work.  I wish!  I was quoting him:  Peter Miller of  

  12. Someone “did the math” and figured that the annual death toll from motor vehicle collisions is the equivalent of a fully loaded jet airliner crashing every other day.  This would be cause for outrage if it involved aircraft, but the same number of people being killed in auto crashes is apparently a tolerable part of life in the USA.  Perhaps it’s because road accidents usually kill people in single-digit numbers, rather than the disastrous toll of a jet “buying the farm”.  And I suspect that the victims are often young or elderly, and are often at the lower end of the economic scale, thus their deaths are not considered very newsworthy.   Add to this the advertising revenue that media receive from the auto industry, and one might have more bias against coverage that makes cars look dangerous. And we must consider that motor vehicles are just too convenient for most Americans to consider alternative transport; we’re willing to take our chances rather than wait for a bus or ride a bike. 

  13. Zoom into Manhattan – I can understand the ‘holes of safe driving’ in Soho and the West Village (slower vehicle speeds). But what’s with the hole between Madison & 8th Aves, 23rd & 34th Sts?

  14. Unfortunately, it will probably be the high economic cost associated with these crashes rather than the loss of life which will be the impetus for larger scale improvements. At least the latter will reduced as a result. “Killing machines” as a wise man dubbed them certainly holds true.

  15. Chuck, the map accurately locates the site where 4-year-old James Rice was killed by a Hummer in 2007. The other two boys depicted in the Butler Street mural, fifth-graders Juan Estrada and Victor Flores, we’re killed by a turning truck at 3rd Avenue and 9th Street in 2004. The map seems to have conflated their deaths, getting the year right but indicating a single death of a 16-year-old.

  16. The term “killing machines” may be aptly applied to combat aircraft, warships and automatic weapons.  Calling cars (and trucks and SUVs) “killing machines” is a bit excessive.  Many of the readers following this website are in favor of more and better public transit, yet people get run over by buses and trains from time to time.  Are they “killing machines”?

  17. How many people have died say..since 1952 when the autoculture in the USA took over transit and intercity rail..A million?? 

  18. So, you’re telling me that there are more vehicle-related deaths where there are more people? I don’t believe it!

  19. Like everything, we must balance this with alternatives. Using words like “addicted” and “crisis” shows the writer’s bias. I live in Seattle, a city with good bus services, in a neighborhood setting where I can walk or cycle to many places for goods and services. What is the alternative for the person in a distant suburb or countryside? Autos give people historically unprecedented freedom of movement that cannot be made up with walking, buses, trains, or bicycles. If we freely choose to live in ways that put us at risk, we must be willing to take the consequences. IF, tho, our “betters” try to decide for us that we may not make these choices, there may be issues.

  20. considering the hideous state of America’s transport system, the death rate seems remarkably low…

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