What we can (and can’t) learn from Oregon’s fatal crash data

The Oregon Department of Transportation started collecting information on fatal motor vehicle accidents back in 1946.

Last week, The Oregonian created a searchable map using this data. It shows the location of every crash that resulted in 5 or more fatalities.


See the map on OregonLive

That’s 47 crashes in nearly 70 years— just a fraction of the total number of traffic deaths. There’s not much to gather from the patterns or locations unless you are a traffic safety engineer.

The real value is in the crash details and news articles about the victims.

…The lone survivor was a 6-month-old girl.

A carload of Portland-area teenagers died when they hit a station wagon head-on. The husband and wife in the front seat of the wagon died; their five children in the vehicle were injured—and witnessed their parents’ deaths.

Eight women were in a van that collided with a truck; six of them died. The other two were injured, but protected by the bodies of their friends.

Each dot represents a crash in which at least five people died. That’s a minimum of 235 people who died tragically and unexpectedly.

That’s thousands of mourning parents, children, relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers.  Those who survived these accidents are also deeply, permanently affected.

So far this year, there have been 79 traffic fatalities in Oregon. That’s up more than 40% from the same time in 2014.

It’s an ominous number. And around that number is the enormous circle of people whose lives have been changed by these losses.

We can tally up the number of car accident deaths, put them on a map, and enumerate the causes. But there is simply no way to calculate the ripple effect of a violent and sudden death.