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In my last blog entry, I began a series on the January 2008 Georgia Department of Transportation (the Georgia “DOT”) report called Crash Analysis, Statistics & Information. As a Georgia car accident lawyer, I handle car wreck cases around the state, but obviously the metro Atlanta area is a prime area for crashes. Today I want to drill down to what the Georgia report says about car accidents in the Atlanta Metro area.

These statistics are interesting to a Georgia car accident injury lawyer like me, but I think all of us who live in or around Atlanta – or just have to drive through it! – will also find them interesting.

According to the report, from 2000 to 2006, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties had what the DOT calls “moderate” growth – 15.63%. (Wow! Imagine what “significant” growth would look like.)

The DOT lumped the five counties — Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett — into a single entity which it labeled as “Atlanta.” In 2000, “Atlanta” had 135,988 car wrecks, or 402.3 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. By 2006, the number had increased to 151,193, or 433.0 car accidents per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. The sheer number of car wrecks had increased by 11.18%, and the rate of car wrecks had increased by 7.65%.

In 2000, 49,524 people were injured in the car accidents in Atlanta, or 146.5 people per million miles of car travel. By 2006, the number of injuries in car wrecks had increased to 49,939, which represented 143.0 injuries per 1,000,000 vehicle miles driven in the Atlanta metro area. Thus, the number of injuries had wrecks had increased .84%, and the rate of injuries in car wrecks had actually decreased by 2.37%.

Fatalities, however, had increased by far less, percentage-wise, than the number of accidents or the number of injuries. In 2000, 369 people were killed in traffic accidents in the metro counties of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. By 2006, a horrifying 398 died on metro roads. In 2000, 1.09 people died per million miles driven in metro Atlanta. By 2006, 1.14 people were dying in that same million miles of driving. The sheer number of deaths had increased by 7.86%, but the rate of deaths had increased proportionately less at 4.43%.

None of these numbers are good. In fact, they are terrible. Still, they do provide us with a surprising insight into what is happening in Atlanta as the population grows and the roads become more and more congested. The number of wrecks is increasing, but the number of deaths and injuries is increasing percentagewise by less than the number of car accidents themselves.

Why would that be? DOT concluded that: “Congestion and high numbers of vehicles and drivers combine to increase the risk of crashes and at the same time can reduce the severity of a crash due to lower speeds and other factors associated with fatal crashes.”

In other words, all that Atlanta traffic is a two-sided coin. On the one hand, the traffic and the proximity of so many cars makes it more likely that people in Atlanta will get into car wrecks. On the other hand, traffic slows us down – and since folks in the Atlanta area counties are driving more slowly, they are less likely to be killed in a wreck. It’s sort of like a very tiny silver lining on a very dark, gray cloud. We are seeing the problems that result from traffic and congestion, but also the one benefit, which is that we have to slow down.