Numbers don’t lie. But unless you have experience analyzing data, it can sometimes seem difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from the stories they tell.

Consider that the winter months in California are without question the most dangerous time of year for motor vehicle collisions involving pedestrians. The latest California Highway Patrol data shows that from November to January, the state generally sees 1,000 to 1,200 pedestrian collisions per month. In early summer, the norm is more like 700 to 800 pedestrian collisions a month.

Be careful before you conclude that the roads are simply more dangerous in winter. Not so for bicyclists. In autumn, California motor vehicle collisions involving bicycles reach as high as 1,300 to 1,400 per month. The safest months are in winter when there are generally 700 to 800 bicycle collisions a month.

Does this mean that California drivers exercise more caution around bicycles—or do bicyclists exercise more caution—in winter? Or do more bicyclists stay off the road in winter? Further investigation is needed.

In this post, Part 3 of our San Jose by the Numbers series, we will present some basic facts about traffic injury data for Santa Clara County and tell you what we think they mean. We emphasize the phrase we think because there may be other interpretations. If you’ve been looking at traffic safety data and have another perspective on what it all means, please share your comments with us on social media.

Motor vehicle injury overview

Before we go into the details about motor vehicle injuries and fatal collisions in Santa Clara County, let’s have a look at some general statewide trends using the latest full report from California Highway Patrol’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS). The SWITRS report has statewide collision data going all the way back to 1933. Though the latest full report stops with 2013 data, you can obtain custom reports from CHP to collect data for any period that’s at least seven months old. We obtained custom reports on Santa Clara County motor vehicle collisions for 2014, 2015, and the first half of 2016 to provide the most up-to-date information possible.

Throughout California, the number of injury collisions peaked in the late 1980s and has been steadily declining over the past decade. Meanwhile, the total vehicle miles of travel in California kept growing as the state population and the number of registered vehicles have grown. So from a high level, some might say there’s good news: the rate of injury collisions at the state level has gone down.

But look a little closer. A staggeringly high percentage of pedestrians and bicyclists injured in motor vehicle collisions are 15 to 24 years old.

California pedestrians injured in 2013

Age 0-4 5-14 15-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65-74 75-84 85 & up
Injuries 357 1,607 2,867 1,703 1,309 1,656 1,391 818 428 130

California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, https://iswitrs.chp.ca.gov/

California bicyclists injured in 2013

Age 0-4 5-14 15-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65-74 75-84 85 & up
Injuries 26 1,403 4,023 2,404 1,590 1,966 1,230 438 114 18

California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, https://iswitrs.chp.ca.gov/

The four previous years in the SWITRS report show the same trend. The group of 15- to 24-year-olds are most heavily affected by pedestrian and bicycle collisions. The state can do much better to help young people safely share the streets.

Santa Clara County injury collisions

One of the basic questions we set out to answer in the San Jose by the Numbers series is whether traffic safety in the communities surrounding GJEL’s San Jose office is improving or getting worse. One way to answer this question is to look at the total number of injury collisions on an annual basis. If you look at it this way, danger on the Santa Clara County roads is on the rise. The total number of injury collisions increased significantly last year. Through the first half of 2016, it appears to be increasing again. At this point, Santa Clara County is seeing more roadside injuries than at any point in the last ten years.

Santa Clara County injury collisions

Year 2016 1st half 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
Injury collisions 3,915 7,433 6,724 6,576 6,639 6,786 6,871 6,464 6,770 7,301

California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, https://iswitrs.chp.ca.gov/

Santa Clara County fatal collisions

Santa Clara County also reached a tragic milestone in 2015 when it recorded 127 fatal collisions, more than at any point in the past decade. The number of fatal collisions tends to fluctuate more than the overall number of injury collisions. We’re dealing with a smaller sample size. So while it appears that Santa Clara County was heading for a significant improvement from 2015 to 2016, the total might be consistent with most years from the past decade. Full-year results for 2016 will be available in August.

Santa Clara County fatal collisions

Year 2016 1st half 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
Fatal collisions 38 127 104 93 82 91 81 88 94 88

California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, https://iswitrs.chp.ca.gov/

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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.