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As US Road Deaths Rise, France Is Safer Than Ever. Why?

Urban Institute researcher Yonah Freemark looks at traffic fatalities in France and the US in search of explanations for why the two countries’ road safety trends diverged. 

Traffic stops for pedestrians crossing the Champs Elysees in France.

Traffic stops for pedestrians crossing the Champs Elysees in France.

Photographer: Tim Graham/Getty Images Europe

Traffic deaths in the US surged at an annual rate of 10.5% last year, the fastest pace on record, to an estimated 42,915 fatalities. Pedestrians are at particular risk; 2021 saw an estimated 7,265 deaths among those on foot, the highest total in 40 years.

Although leaders like Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have repeatedly warned of a “national crisis” in roadway safety, they seldom emphasize its uniquely American nature. Roadways in Canada, the European Union, Japan and Australia have generally grown safer in recent years — both before the pandemic and during it.