Is the “man-covery” responsible for 2012′s increase in vehicle deaths?

Via Streetsblog (which is via the National Safety Council), motor vehicle-related fatalities increased for the first time in seven years in 2012–this number includes pedestrians and bicyclists killed by cars. The jump was pretty big, too, up 5% from 2011 to an estimated 36,200 total deaths. There’s been a sense of cautious optimism as the number of fatalities has significantly declined over the past five years, tempered in part by worries that the improvement was temporary, due mainly to the recession’s impact on peoples’ travel and not a result of more permanent changes in road safety. Although we’re still far short of the more than 43,000 deaths we saw in 2005, it looks like that caution may have been warranted.

One has to ask, though, why now? Why, despite the recession ending in Summer of 2009, did vehicle-related deaths continue to fall through 2011? If the recession were really responsible for most of the drop then it should have stabilized around the same time as unemployment, but that’s not what we see.

For the beginnings of an answer to this problem, I looked to another report that was released recently: work by Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan showed that for the first time ever more women have driver’s licenses than men (they had just 40% of total licenses fifty years ago). Men still drive more than women, accounting for 59% of total miles driven, but that too is an all-time low down from 76%. Men are, on average, relatively unsafe drivers; depending on the age group, they range from 30-100% more likely to be involved in fatal car crashes than their female counterparts, so having a smaller share of total driving being done by men seems like a win for road safety.