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Adverse weather conditions and fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States, 1994-2012
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Details:
  • Pubmed ID:
    27821115
  • Pubmed Central ID:
    PMC5100176
  • Document Type:
  • Collection(s):
  • Description:
    Background

    Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury mortality. Adverse weather and road conditions have the potential to affect the likelihood of motor vehicle fatalities through several pathways. However, there remains a dearth of assessments associating adverse weather conditions to fatal crashes in the United States. We assessed trends in motor vehicle fatalities associated with adverse weather and present spatial variation in fatality rates by state.

    Methods

    We analyzed the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) datasets from 1994 to 2012 produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that contains reported weather information for each fatal crash. For each year, we estimated the fatal crashes that were associated with adverse weather conditions. We stratified these fatalities by months to examine seasonal patterns. We calculated state-specific rates using annual vehicle miles traveled data for all fatalities and for those related to adverse weather to examine spatial variations in fatality rates. To investigate the role of adverse weather as an independent risk factor for fatal crashes, we calculated odds ratios for known risk factors (e.g., alcohol and drug use, no restraint use, poor driving records, poor light conditions, highway driving) to be reported along with adverse weather.

    Results

    Total and adverse weather-related fatalities decreased over 1994–2012. Adverse weather-related fatalities constituted about 16 % of total fatalities on average over the study period. On average, 65 % of adverse weather-related fatalities happened between November and April, with rain/wet conditions more frequently reported than snow/icy conditions. The spatial distribution of fatalities associated with adverse weather by state was different than the distribution of total fatalities. Involvement of alcohol or drugs, no restraint use, and speeding were less likely to co-occur with fatalities during adverse weather conditions.

    Conclusions

    While adverse weather is reported for a large number of motor vehicle fatalities for the US, the type of adverse weather and the rate of associated fatality vary geographically. These fatalities may be addressed and potentially prevented by modifying speed limits during inclement weather, improving road surfacing, ice and snow removal, and providing transit alternatives, but the impact of potential interventions requires further research.

    Electronic supplementary material

    The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12940-016-0189-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.