Why US Roads Became So Dangerous and What to Do About It

All of us turned conversant in the concept of “bending a curve” because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it appears one other US curve wants bending: that of US visitors fatalities, which have been up strongly and abnormally over the past couple of years. The low-hanging fruit on the subject of altering which may not be within the automotive as a lot as round it.

US visitors fatalities have been on an extended (if lumpy) normal downward development (blue bars) even because the US inhabitants has grown dramatically (inexperienced line) and as fataltities per car miles traveled declined (purple line) — aside from the final couple of years.

Brian Cooley/CNET

Thanks largely to in-car security tech like airbags, antilock brakes, stability management and, extra lately, computerized emergency braking, US visitors fatalities have typically been on an extended decline since 1970. The 52,000 such deaths recorded 52 years in the past shrank to 36,000 in 2019 even because the US inhabitants and car miles pushed each elevated dramatically. However 2020 and 2021 noticed the most important spike in over 50 years to a complete of virtually 43,000 per yr, turning the roadway fatality clock again to 2002. Briefly, one thing’s not working in addition to it did.

“We want laws associated to car design and avenue design,” says Yonah Freemark, senior analysis affiliate on the City Institute, a nonprofit suppose tank centered on city mobility and fairness. “These two play a extremely vital position in how doubtless persons are to get killed in streets, particularly pedestrians (and cyclists) which can be struck by automobiles.” 

Pace is a significant factor in almost a 3rd of all roadway deaths. An answer that will doubtless increase the hackles of most US drivers is the elevated use of still-rare computerized velocity cameras that subject tickets autonomously and create an enforcement presence that no variety of human officers can hope to duplicate. However US drivers have been sufficiently vocal of their opposition to such enforcement tech that there are research wanting on the quite a few cities which have eliminated their related red-light cameras.

UK speed cameras above four lanes of traffic

Pace cameras are widespread in a number of nations outdoors the US, typically utilizing expertise that calculates common velocity of a given car primarily based on the time stamps when it passes two or extra placeson the roadway.


In-vehicle security applied sciences that shield occupants have solely turn out to be extra prevalent over the past couple of years, so Freemark appears at pedestrian and bike owner fatalities in collisions with automobiles as the subsequent key space for enchancment. Three-quarters of US auto patrons choose a light-weight truck that’s sometimes heavier and bigger than the sedan or coupe they could have chosen as their earlier buy, a formulation for a extra brutal influence with somebody outdoors of the car. Sooner or later, many extra electrical automobiles will probably be offered and their well-known weight downside may exacerbate the seriousness of collisions.

“America has chosen to not develop automotive security requirements which can be designed to guard pedestrians, each when it comes to testing and (car) necessities,” says Freemark. European autos are rated on pedestrian influence in a collision, the place US automotive security rankings focus totally on how nicely the automotive protects these inside it.

A Volvo on a shiny floor

Volvo was first to supply an underhood airbag meant to restrict the harm to a pedestrian within the occasion of an influence, however the expertise stays fairly uncommon. Nevertheless it’s much better to design roads that higher separate automobiles from pedestrians than give attention to mitigating the diploma of main harm once they meet.

Volvo Vehicles

That distinction performs out if you examine roadway fatality stats outdoors the US. “During the last 20 years or so we have seen fairly a divergence between different developed nations, like France,” Freemark stated of a comparability he is centered on. He famous different nations’ taxation schemes that disincentivize the acquisition of huge, heavy autos in addition to computerized dashing cameras and the presence of much more visitors circles that also befuddle most US drivers. Hearken to Yonah Freemark’s dialog with CNET’s Brian Cooley to listen to what he believes may bend the curve of US street fatalities, maybe to new lows that car expertise itself would possibly by no means ship.

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