Reality Check

Reality Check

Vets the truthfulness of claims and measures the efficacy of public policy

San Jose 2nd Safest U.S. Driving City

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In this edition of Reality Check, Sam Brock goes behind the numbers to fact-check the claim San Jose is one of the safest big cities in the country.

    As tech companies continue to grow, and more and more people are moving to the Bay Area, traffic across the region is getting worse. Just last year, San Jose came in as the 7th most congested city in the United States -- up from 13th worst in 2010, according to Inrix, which monitors traffic nationwide.

    With more cars on the road, the common assumption is that there will be more car accidents.

    It therefore came as a surprise when the city of San Jose released a report this week that stated, "San Jose continues to be one of the safest large cities in the nation for traffic operations."

    Is this in fact true? The answer, put simply, is yes.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation collects traffic fatality data for all of the major cities in the United States. And, despite population increases and more cars on the road, San Jose had the lowest vehicle fatality rate among the ten largest cities in the country, behind just one city -- New York.

    Here is the raw data:

    Fatality Rate Per 100,000 People (Source: DOT, 2012)

    • New York City 3.21
    • San Jose 4.27
    • San Diego 5.23
    • Chicago 5.34
    • Los Angeles 6.27
    • Philadelphia 6.91
    • Houston 9.01
    • San Antonio 9.54
    • Phoenix 10.14
    • Dallas 10.96

    What's particularly interesting is that this is not a new phenomenon. San Jose has had the second lowest vehicle fatality rate among major cities for the last 10 years, and in 2003, it actually nudged ahead of New York City and had the lowest vehicle fatality rate.

    What may explain this? Good, long-term city planning maybe?

    That's what Jim Helmer, San Jose's former Director of Transportation told NBC Bay Area.

    "I recall that in my interview, they wanted to make San Jose one of the safest cities in the country, and that's part of the reason I took the job," Helmer said.

    That was back in 1988.

    Helmer explained that San Jose has long been focused on the three "Es" -- engineering, enforcement and education. He believes this is why San Jose's streets are among the safest when compared to other major cities.

    While San Jose is in fact "one of the safest large cities in the nation," as the federal data supports, people are still dying in car accidents. In 2011, there were 36 deaths and in 2012, the number jumped to 42 fatalities.

    This was something that the current transportation director, Hans Larsen, said he was worried about and working on.