The Sacramento Bee today had an article titled Fatal wrecks decline across Sacramento region. I was curious about where the data came from, and asked the author, Phillip Reese. He pointed me to the FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System) database. With reluctance, I finally dove in to this database which I’ve long been curious about but afraid of. It is quite hard to use, and it does not allow retrieval of multiple years at once. I compiled a data table of fatalities in the Sacramento region for the last ten years, and the table and graph are below. I used the SACOG region, which includes the six counties of El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba, so my numbers do not exactly match the four county region used by the Sacramento Bee for the map and 170 number.
The chart shows that there is in fact a downward trend in fatalities in the region, though it is not a consistent decline. Part of the reason 2011 looks good is that 2010 was bad.
Let me say, as I’ve said before, that fatality counts are a mis-measure of roadway safety. The best measure is the rate per vehicle mile traveled (VMT). Injuries are just as important as fatalities because they indicate trends in driver behavior, while fatalities reflect the internal safety of motor vehicles for occupants, and the effectiveness of the emergency medical system in responding to crashes. I will look more at the data, including looking specifically at pedestrians and bicyclists, and the rate for all modes. In meanwhile, here is the data and chart, to be taken with a grain of salt.