This article was originally published in the November/December 2019 issue of IMSA Journal.
As we approach this year’s World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, which commemorates the many millions of road traffic victims who have been killed or injured on the world’s roads, we must reflect on the actions we as transportation enthusiasts and practitioners can take to drastically reduce the frequency of such tragedies.
Falling on November 17 this year, the 15th annual Day of Remembrance reminds us to reflect on how we design and operate our roads, and to promote the acceleration and expansion of road safety activities that are ultimately a big part of why IMSA members come to work each day.
Rooted in responsibility
Convinced that responsibility for road safety rests at the local, municipal as well as national levels, the World Health Organization created this poignant day in 2005 as a reaction to the global road safety crisis.
In 2019, fortunately there is growing global recognition that road traffic crashes are not “accidents” and that roadways need to be designed and operated to be more forgiving of human error. Unfortunately, the traffic crash problem is getting worse, however, with nearly 3,700 people dying on the world’s roads every day, 100 of which are in the United States.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 36,750 people were killed in U.S. traffic crashes in 2018. This is 12.2% above the all-time low of 32,744 in 2014, and is happening despite a heightened emphasis on advanced safety systems in new vehicles.
Vulnerable road users must not be forgotten
While well-meaning in-vehicle safety features such as collision avoidance, lane departure warning and partially automated steering are commendable innovations that have no doubt saved many lives, they have shifted the traffic crash burden disproportionately to pedestrians and cyclists.
U.S. pedestrian deaths hit a 28-year high in 2018, according to new estimates from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) that suggest the nation's SUV boom is becoming increasingly deadly for vulnerable road users. GHSA estimated that pedestrian deaths across the nation rose 4% to 6,227 last year — which would mark the most pedestrian fatalities since 1990. The GHSA reported that the number of pedestrian deaths involving SUVs increased by 50 percent from 2013 through 2017, while the number of pedestrian deaths caused by passenger cars increased by 30 percent over that same period. That reflects booming sales of SUVs and the fact that pedestrians are much less likely to survive the impact of an SUV, and highlights the need to change the way we operate our streets to make them more forgiving.
Messaging is key
The World Day of Remembrance campaign develops slogans each year in efforts to change the culture of roadway design and operations, and this year’s slogan – “life is not a car part” – poignantly communicates that human life cannot simply be replaced if broken. Last year’s slogan – “roads have stories – for happy endings, let’s improve road safety” – resonated just as strongly.
As IMSA members, we are on the front lines of pursuing this dream of happy endings for the stories told by our roads. We can engage and change processes and culture in our agencies to accelerate and expand road safety activities as part of our roadway operations. This was made clear by the dialogue at the October 2019 Vision Zero Cities conference, which brought together leading industry and policy experts, advocates, and elected officials to learn from others and strategize about the problems facing modern city streets.
Stories were shared at the Vision Zero Cities conference about failures that have solutions readily available:
- A major city where a known broken pedestrian button was not repaired until after a pedestrian fatality occurred, because no resident had called 311 to create a work order.
- Another city’s Vision Zero program identified that more than one-third of all collisions occur at traffic signals despite only 9% of the city’s intersections being signalized, but concluded that rather than change the way they operate signals, they simply would not build any more signals.
Change must be driven by data
A change in culture is clearly needed in these agencies, moving to a mindset that, as urged by The Vision Zero Network, embraces deployment of technology to collect, analyze and use data to improve safety. Moving to a culture where projects and operations are prioritized based on operational intelligence of what modes of transportation are using roadways, what crash patterns exist and what crash reduction measures can be deployed in our infrastructure to create more forgiving roadways.
Giving red-light enforcement the green
More forgiving roadways address crash patterns and near misses experienced on our streets. In addition to the pedestrian and bicyclist crash patterns detailed earlier, the AAA Foundation has documented that crashes caused by drivers running red lights have reached a 10-year high. Their study found that when red-light enforcement cameras are in place, fatal collisions were reduced by 21%. However, only 21 states allow automated enforcement for red-light running, and 10% of ticketed drivers in Florida were found to be repeat offenders. Changing signal operations at problem intersection to add advanced dilemma zone protection is one way IMSA members can accelerate and expand road safety activities.
About the Author
John Lower is Associate Vice President, Roadway Sensors at Iteris.
Connect with John on LinkedIn.