Is Phoenix Safe?

Phoenix was reputed to be America’s 7th safest city, according to this survey which looked at three factors relating to insurance. Clearly the stuff of newspaper-filler stories. Intrigued, I see that the survey involves ranking cities in three categories 1) Crime, 2) Natural disasters, and 3) Traffic safety; though it wasn’t clear how they were weighted. For example, traffic fatalities claim far more lives than murder, and the number of deaths in the U.S. due to natural disaster is miniscule.
That being as it may, their source for traffic safety rankings is the “Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report” (tm!), which Allstate claims “Reveals Safest Driving Cities”.

What it actually measures is the statistical likihood of having an auto insurance claim. Which Allstate claims, and I think sounds reasonable, as a proxy for the number of MV collisions. The next leap, which is demonstrably false, is that fewer collisions translates into “safety”. One glaring data point is enough to disprove this: cities of similar size are frequently and for good reasons ranked against one another; it just so happens that Phoenix and Philadelphia have virtually the same population, and are currently the 5th and 6th largest city in the U.S. Actual fatality data reveal that Phoenix is significantly more dangerous than Philadelphia, yet Allstate’s proxy data says just the opposite:

NHTSA Fatality Data Allstate data
City Killed population killed per 100K time between collisions rank (higher=worse)
Philadelphia 95 1547297 6.14 60.2% worse 6.2 years 187
Seattle, WA 30 616,627 4.87 25% worse 8.0 years 147
Phoenix AZ 159 1593659 9.98 1.1% better 10.1 years 74

Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 2009 (latest year available), Table 124 811402.pdf, and Allstate (follow link above; current year result they refer to as 2011, is similar to 2005-2010 ). Notes: overall U.S. fatals/population/ratePer100K = 33,808/307,007,000/11.01

So, Allstate’s data merely shows that Phoenicians suffer from fewer fender-benders than Philadelphians; but say nothing about safety.

Why is Phoenix so dangerous? The main reason is probably because it’s “Dangerous by design”, with a higher priority on moving more cars, at higher speeds; and a lower priority on getting everyone to their destinations without being killed. More driving could explain some but not all of the gap; this, in itself, a symptom of poor land-use choices.

I threw Seattle into the table simply because of this recent op-ed that aggravated me: why-seattle-is-safer-than-phoenix. Phoenix and Seattle are quite dissimilar in population, but here again the Allstate data claims Seattle is significantly more dangerous than Phoenix when just the opposite that’s true.

2014 Update

Here’s the figures based on Allstate released in Sept 2014. Phoenix is the “best” large city at 9.2 years; and coincidentally Philadelphia is the “worst” large city at 6.2 years.

By the way

I always have trouble finding this page at www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov (which can be found by searching for FARS, then clicking on “publications”) where it lists publications like Traffic Safety Facts; e.g. 2009 Traffic Safety Facts Data Summary Booklet ; and 2009 Traffic Safety Facts FARS/GES Annual Report, they list back to about earlier 1990’s.

One thought on “Is Phoenix Safe?”

  1. Every year around this same time, we are treated to this same stupidity; It relates to a press-release from Allstate insurance, and always gets spun into something like Phoenix has the ‘SAFEST’ drivers among large cities in America!!
    There’s only one problem, it’s not true. At least not the customary definition of safety.

    http://www.azcentral.com/community/phoenix/free/20130830phoenix-ranked-safest-drivers-among-big-cities-allstate-report.html

    The article was written by Chris Cole, a student journalist. He seems to have neglected to do any fact checking. (I dropped him a note on facebook; so far, no reply).
    The article has reaction quotes from a few people — most annoying was Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. This man is a political appointee, charged with, i presume, improving safety. Far from admitting Phoenix is less safe, he seemed quite proud. He praises PHoenix’s “grid system” which as far as I can tell is part of the problem — or rather a grid of a relative handful of very high-speed / very high volume arterial roads.

    The problem is the numbers (Allstate’s) count only the number of collisions; the don’t bother to count what really matters: injuries and fatalities. E.g. Philadelphia (a similar sized population) has *far* fewer fatalities than Phoenix.

    In short; when a collsion occurs in Phoenix, it is far more likely to result in a catastrophe. Is this ‘safe’?

    Arizona (I’m switching to statewide stats) remains significantly worse http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/departments/nrd-30/ncsa/STSI/4_AZ/2011/4_AZ_2011.htm ; compare both the fatalites per capita, AND per mile — they are both sub-par

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