Electric vehicles are slowly gaining popularity, and many see them as the key to drastically cutting transportation emissions. Yet the growing weight and size of vehicles are presenting new challenges and serious safety concerns. One major issue is the enormous weight of popular EVs and the impact that these increasingly large vehicles will have on the country’s roads, bridges, and—as one new study points out—its guardrails.
A study released by Johns Hopkins last November gained widespread attention for demonstrating that 9-foot lanes are often safer than wider lanes. The researchers note, however, that most state DOTs set minimum lane widths between 10 and 12 feet and require design exceptions for anything narrower. Even in Vermont, where 9-foot lanes are allowed, the researchers found they have not been implemented. Therefore, paving the way to narrow lanes means understanding all the factors that make them challenging in the first place.
Vehicles keep getting larger and heavier. Increasing a vehicle’s size not only increases emissions, it also has important implications for pedestrian safety, increasing the risk of injury and death on the road. Many studies have looked at the predominant factors that heighten risk for pedestrians. A new study from the University of Hawaii analyzes both crash data and physical vehicle measurements, rather than focusing on vehicle types, to determine a leading factor in pedestrian death rates: the front-end height of a vehicle.
The research is clear, increased driver speeds lead to more dangerous roads. For example, increasing the state maximum speed limit by 5 mph results in an 8% increase in the fatality rate on interstates and freeways, and a 4% increase on other roads. Speed is even more dangerous for pedestrians; research shows that a person hit by a car traveling at 35 mph is five times more likely to die than a person hit by a car traveling at 20 mph. These facts highlight the important role speed limits play in creating safe streets, and is one of the reasons the Colorado DOT (CDOT) is rethinking how it determines appropriate limits.
Traditional transportation safety frameworks like the three Es (Engineering, Enforcement, and Education) are impeding strategies that will reduce traffic deaths and improve overall population health, says a new study. The study introduces the Safe Systems Pyramid, a framing of the Safe Systems approach designed to prioritize policies and programs that incorporate health principles into transportation decision making. By combining public health efforts with transportation strategies and practices, the authors propose an alternative approach that moves away from identifying crash outcomes and toward addressing the causes of safety crises., the authors propose an alternative approach away from identifying crash outcomes and toward addressing the causes of safety crises.
Pedestrian traffic deaths in the U.S. are something of an outlier among high-income countries. While many other countries have decreased—or at least stabilized—the number of pedestrians killed annually, our numbers continue to climb. Responding to this crisis, the U.S. DOT recently adopted a Safe System approach. This represents an enormous shift away from a decades-long operating principle of evaluating the transportation system by its level of service for motor vehicles. FHWA dispatched a team to New Zealand and Australia, two countries that have had greater success incorporating this approach into the DNA of their transportation systems and operations, to learn from their experiences.
Safety advocates have long sought modal parity in American road safety standards. As improving vehicle safety features make driving safer for vehicle occupants, lagging road design improvements and increasingly aggressive car design create hazards for everyone else. At long last, advocates say, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed changing the way it rates new cars to identify those that are the most dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Complete Streets have been critiqued as to whether they improve safety for all users. Research shows that integrating Complete Streets effectively results in significant increases in walking and bicycling. Effective policies require thoughtful implementation and accountability. Smart Growth America scores the latest Complete Streets policies to determine the strongest and most effective approaches for safer and more equitable streets. New policies are a good start to creating healthier and more equitable transportation networks, but implementing and monitoring them represents a complete overhaul of the decision-making process.
In response to mounting safety issues, more transportation agencies are recognizing the importance of managing traffic speeds—a shift from long-held practices that prioritize vehicle speed. In the long run, this will require widespread changes in road design that reinforce lower travel speeds through physical and visual cues. Until then, however, authorities are turning to more immediate strategies like setting lower speed limits in urbanized areas. As the leading authorities across much of the U.S., state DOTs are stepping up to the task.
The total number of traffic deaths on U.S. roads might have finally leveled off following a concerning pandemic-related surge, according to early estimates. For people walking, however, the alarming rise in deaths for over a decade is not showing signs of slowing.