A new report highlights the numerous factors that have the USA lagging behind most other developed countries when it comes to road safety. It says that among many factors, road design, car design, and Americans’ attitudes toward the road itself contribute to the problem. Solving the issue will require numerous changes across the country.
In a deep dive into traffic fatalities, the New York Times says that out of 31 developed countries, the USA is one of only three to have an increase in deaths during 2020 compared to their average between 2017 and 2019. In fact, while the USA saw a 5 percent increase in the study, most nations saw decreases of 10 percent or more during the same time period. A handful saw drops of more than 25 percent.
To anyone paying attention, a steady rate of traffic fatalities won’t come as a surprise. It was newsworthy when the NHTSA reported an estimated decrease in total fatalities per 100 million miles from 1.3 in 2021 to 1.27 this year. “Motor vehicles are first, highways are first, and everything else is an afterthought,” said Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board to the New York Times.
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That seems to sum up the largest part of the problem. Yonah Freemark, a researcher at the Urban Institute drew a comparison to highlight the issue further. “Other countries started to take seriously pedestrian and cyclist injuries in the 2000s — and started making that a priority in both vehicle design and street design — in a way that has never been committed to in the United States,” he said.
With such wide and car-focused roads, speeding feels more comfortable and safe. Certainly, the record-setting Cannonball run of a white Audi going from New York to Los Angeles in just 26 hours and 38 minutes provides some anecdotal evidence to that point. On top of issues with road design, cars, while safer for occupants, aren’t always optimized for the safety of those outside of the vehicle.
In addition, the pandemic led to far more vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists. While some thought that there would be strength in numbers, the statistics don’t bear that out. Polly Trottenberg, New York City’s former transportation commissioner put the solution this way “We need to change the culture that accepts this level of death and injury.”
That culture shift would require different thinking behind the wheel, different infrastructure, better vehicle design, and more. One thing not mentioned in the report was the vastly different levels of driver training that different countries have. That certainly plays a part in safety here in the States as well.