American Roads Are Dangerous by Design, and More People Are Dying Than Ever Before

via. Smart Growth America

"The time for complacency has passed. We must treat this crisis as if our lives, and the lives of our friends, families, and neighbors, depend on it."

If you are inside a Ram 3500, life is pretty good these days as far as safety goes. The death rates per vehicle miles traveled have never been lower, thanks to air bags, drunk driving enforcement and lots of heavy metal.

If you are outside a Ram 3500, things are not so pretty. In fact, things have been getting consistently worse. According to the latest Dangerous by Design report from Smart Growth America, "In the past decade, the number of people struck and killed while walking increased by 35 percent. 2016 and 2017 were the two highest years since 1990 for the number of people who were killed by drivers while walking."

deaths increasing

Smart Growth America/via

It's not that people are walking more, or even that people are driving more. Pedestrian deaths have been increasing at a far greater rate. The report concludes that there are two main sources:

Road Design:

We continue to design streets that are dangerous for all people, not just because we keep repeating the same mistakes, but because our federal policies, standards, and funding mechanisms that have been in place for decades produce dangerous roads that prioritize high speeds for cars over safety for all people.

Vehicle design, and the shift to light trucks

Additionally, more people are driving cars that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has determined to be notoriously dangerous for people walking. According to a 2015 NHTSA report, SUVs (sport utility vehicles) and pickup trucks are two to three times more likely than smaller personal vehicles like sedans to kill people walking in the event of a crash.
Dangerous States

Smart Growth America/via

But it also helps to live north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The most dangerous states for pedestrians are in the south, with Florida leading the pack. Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog cleverly notes that "the Bible Belt should really be called the Carnage Corset" because of the overlap. It is mainly a design problem because they developed more recently and are dominated by big, wide suburban streets.

Previous research by Smart Growth America found that in general the most sprawling metropolitan areas with wider roads and longer blocks typically cluster in the southern states. Furthermore, academic research has consistently linked these sprawling growth patterns to higher rates of both traffic-related deaths for people walking and traffic-related deaths overall.
Top 20 cities

Smart Growth America/via

Eight of the ten most dangerous metropolitan areas are in Florida because of sprawl and because of the older population – and because, as we have noted so many times on MNN, older pedestrians are challenged in vision, hearing, and moving fast enough to get out of the way of a pickup truck.

People walking who are killed by people driving also are predominantly poor, Black, Hispanic or native, because they live near the most dangerous roads. "In addition to siting more dangerous roads near communities of color, implicit bias may also play a role in the increased danger for people of color. Research by the University of Nevada has shown that drivers are significantly more likely to yield to a White pedestrian in a crosswalk than to a Black or African American pedestrian."

The report concludes by calling on governments to change their attitudes about prioritizing moving cars at high speeds.

We call for binding, enforceable requirements for states to work toward reducing—and eventually eliminating—deaths and serious injuries on our roadways. We call for funding dedicated to safer street projects that specifically serve the needs of all people walking, particularly older adults, people of color, and low-income communities. We call for federally endorsed street design standards that put the safety of vulnerable users first and foremost and that allow for flexible, context-sensitive design approaches.

Euro NCAP/Screen capture

I was surprised that they did not also call for new rules on vehicle designs such as Euro-NCAP, which would eliminate the dangerous walls of steel that you find on every SUV or pickup truck, or Intelligent Speed Assistance that could cut deaths by 20 percent. Big steps, but almost 50,000 people walking have been killed by people driving. If anything else caused this much harm there would be marches in the streets. As the study concludes:

The time for complacency has passed. We must treat this crisis as if our lives, and the lives of our friends, families, and neighbors, depend on it. Because the reality is, they do.

And please, no comments complaining about distracted pedestrians wearing black hoodies and headphones, which the study dismisses as "victim- blaming rhetoric prevalent in media coverage." It is a diversion.