Statistics about traffic fatalities don’t always have the power to shock most people. Huge numbers — like 373,377, the number of people in the US who died in traffic between 2004 and 2013, for example — are difficult for our brains to really comprehend.
“Most people have seen the statistics about traffic accidents, [but] it’s hard to understand what those numbers mean in the real world,” the data scientist Max Galka recently told Gizmodo over email. That’s why Galka spent weeks compiling millions of records from the US government’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System to create a comprehensive map of every one of those 373,377 people who have died in traffic since 2003. “The purpose of the map is to show these statistics in terms of real people, some of whom may have died in your very neighbourhood,” he says.
It’s an awful map; painful to look at for anyone who has been close to one of those almost half-million people — but Galka hopes it will help contextualize how large-scale statistics represent real people in real neighbourhoods. The individuals are broken down by age and sex, as well as whether they were a passenger or driver, a pedestrian, a cyclist, and so on.
Seen as a whole, the map tends to follow the logic of the interstate system and clusters of cities, But as you drill down into locality, Galka also created tertiary maps that organise the fatalities into causal categories: Deaths caused by speeding, drinking and driving, or distracted driving. “I tried not to interject too much of my own views, but in my opinion, many, if not most, of these accidents were from preventable causes,” Galka says.
Distracted drivers, highlighted in green.
Just like those statistics that don’t quite hit home with most people, warnings about not drinking, texting, or speeding while driving are repeated again and again in our culture — maybe seeing their real effects on a map will help drive them home. You can explore the interactive here.