By Andrew M. Seaman
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The number of people who died in motor vehicle accidents in England and Wales over a 50-year period fell despite car ownership increasing during that time, according to a new study.
While safety and medical advances may be responsible for the overall drop in deaths, the researchers found that social class and sex still factor into who dies as a result of car accidents.
"There is a consistently lower age of death for manual workers and men, compared to non-manual workers and females," Dr. Andrew Fogarty, the study's lead author, said. "That was consistent across the decades."
Fogarty is an associate professor at the University of Nottingham in the UK.
For the new study, he and Dr. Clarence Liu, used data on all registered deaths from motor vehicle collisions in England and Wales between 1960 and 2009.
In 1960, there were a total of 1,647 deaths from motor vehicle accidents. That number fell 41 percent by 2009, when 964 people died in accidents.
The drop in deaths occurred despite the number of car owners in the UK increasing by about 3 percent every year during the same period.
Fogarty and Liu write in the Emergency Medical Journal that there could be a number of reasons for fewer motor vehicle deaths. Those include laws that prohibit drinking and driving and the enforcement of speed limits.
Medical advances and requirements for everyone to wear seatbelts and for children to use car or booster seats may have also contributed to reducing death rates, they said.
One of the largest reductions in deaths from motor vehicle accidents was among children age 14 years and younger. In 1960, 66 children died in accidents, compared to 20 children in 2009.
Fogarty said it's also noteworthy that there was not a large increase in deaths among people age 75 years and older. More deaths would be expected in that age group as the population gets older.
He called the finding that men and manual laborers are still dying at a younger age compared to non-manual laborers and women "depressing."
"The most likely cause with men is that they tend to be riskier drivers - particularly in adolescence," Fogarty said. For example, men may drive faster than women.
For manual workers, it could be that they can't afford big cars with the latest safety features, he said. People in non-manual and better paying jobs can most likely afford those cars, which would protect them during an accident.
Fogarty can't say for certain why men and manual laborers tend to die younger from car accidents, but he said future studies may be able to clarify that.
"The ideal way to do it is to look at things like insurance company records, because they have better data on drivers," he said. "The insurance industry would have the data to do the next step."
Dr. Guohua Li, who was not involved in the new research but has studied motor vehicle injuries, said a similar drop in deaths occurred in the U.S. but even greater reductions are possible.
"Even by looking at the rates in the two countries you can say there is a lot of room for improvement," Li, the director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, said.
He said areas to target would be prescription drug abuse that may impair a person's ability to drive and distracted driving, such as sending text messages behind the wheel. Continuing to dissuade drunk driving is also important, he said.
"Those kinds of efforts in the past decades trying to bring down the number of fatalities have been extremely successful," he said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/17Ftiey Emergency Medical Journal, online November 6, 2013.