Traffic engineers construct roads that encourage accidents because they depend on outdated research and faulty data.

“Can you name the truck that has four-wheel drive, smells like steak and seats 35?”

In 1998, The Simpsons joked in regards to the Canyonero, an SUV so big they were obviously joking. At the time, it was absurd to think anyone would drive something that was “12 yards long, two lanes wide, and 65 tons of American pride.”

In 2024, this joke shouldn’t be removed from reality.

And our reality is that more pedestrians and cyclists are being killed on US roads than at any time within the last 45 years – over 1,000 cyclists and seven,500 pedestrians in 2022 alone.

Vehicle size is an enormous a part of this problem. A recent article by urban economist Justin Tyndall found that a rise within the front end height of about 10 centimeters increases the likelihood of a fatal pedestrian accident by 22%For female pedestrians and folks over 65 years of age, the chance increases by 31%, and for kids by 81%.

It's hard to argue against physics, so it's somewhat logical responsible cars for the rising variety of road deaths. In fact, Tyndall estimates that a cyclist hit by a pickup truck fairly than a automotive is 291% more more likely to die.

Yet automotive manufacturers have long claimed that if everyone simply obeyed the principles of the road, nobody would die. The size of the vehicle is irrelevant to this claim.

My discipline, Traffic engineeringis analogous. We underestimate our role in perpetuating poor outcomes and the role that higher engineering can play in creating safer communities and streets.

A white painted bicycle decorated with flowers attached to a street pole at an urban intersection.
One of three “ghost bikes” on a block within the Bronx, New York, on April 6, 2024, to commemorate delivery staff killed in traffic accidents.
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Millions of road deaths

How bad are the negative consequences? The United States has been tracking the variety of car-related traffic deaths since 1899. As a rustic, we now have reached the brink 1 million deaths in total in 1953, 2 million in 1975, and three million in 1998. While data from recent years has not yet been released, I estimate that the whole variety of traffic fatalities within the United States will surpass 4 million sometime within the spring of 2024.

How a lot of them are pedestrians and cyclists? The analysts were unable to differentiate between the variety of pedestrians and cyclists killed. within the early yearsbut based on subsequent trends, I estimate that about 930,000 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed by cars within the United States.

How a lot of these deaths will we blame on big cars or bad roads? The answer is: only a few.

As I show in my recent book, “Killed by a traffic engineer: The illusion that our transport system is based on science must be destroyed”, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration describes the error of road users as “critical reason” behind 94% of accidents, injuries and deaths.

The crash data proves this.

Police investigate accidents and inevitably look to find out which road users – including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists – are primarily at fault. This is straightforward because in almost every accident, the road user's fault appears to be the apparent problem.

This approach helps insurance firms determine who has to pay. It also helps automotive manufacturers and traffic engineers justify all these deaths. Everyone – except the families and friends of those 4 million victims – goes to sleep at night with the great feeling that badly behaving road users just must be higher taught or higher enforced.

But the mistakes made by road users are only the tip of the iceberg of the issue.

Who creates dangerous roads?

When traffic engineers excessively wide road that appears more like a highwayand a speeding driver is involved in an accident in Canyonero, the motive force will probably be accused of speeding in the following accident data.

When traffic engineers poor zebra crossings with large gapsand someone crosses the road on a red light and is hit by the speeding Canyonero driver, the official accident report will blame one or each of those road users.

And when automotive manufacturers construct gigantic vehicles which might be easily double the speed limit and fill them with annoying touchscreensaccident data will still blame road users for nearly every bad thing that happens.

These are the sorts of systemic conditions that result in many so-called road user errors. But should you look beneath the surface, it becomes clear that many human errors represent the standard, rational behavior of typical, rational road users given the transportation systems and vehicle options we offer them with.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that our underlying crash data gives a free pass to everyone but road users themselves. Everyone wants a data-driven approach to road safety, but today's standard view of crash data absolves automakers, insurance firms, and policymakers who set vehicle safety standards of responsibility for the rise in size of those ever-larger cars and light-weight trucks.

It also absolves traffic engineers, planners and politicians of the blame for making a transportation system during which, for many Americans, The only good selection to get from A to B is the automotive.

Traffic engineer Wesley Marshall explains why he believes traffic engineers systematically fail to design safer roads.

Understanding road behaviour

Car manufacturers wish to sell cars and earn a living. And if larger SUVs seem safer to potential customers and at the identical time far more profitableIt is straightforward to see how the interaction between road users and automotive manufacturers – whose decisions are apparently rational – has developed into an arms race in terms of SUVs.

Even if these vehicles less safety for pedestrians, cyclists and passengers of oncoming vehiclesThis aspect is ignored in the present data-driven approach to road safety.

This cannot all be fixed without delay. But in the event that they proceed as before, automotive manufacturers and traffic engineers will proceed waste money At Campaigns responsible the victims or billboards high above the road, urging drivers to watch the road.

A greater start line can be to revamp the United States' supposedly data-driven approach to traffic safety by reinventing our understanding of the crash data on which it’s all based.

The secret is to ask why. Why did these road users behave as they did? Why did they not follow the principles that were set for them? Bad road user behaviour shouldn’t be excused, but should you dig slightly beneath the surface of the accident data, a really different story emerges.

Finding out which road user made the most important mistake could also be helpful for law enforcement and insurance firms, but it surely does little to assist traffic engineers, planners, politicians or automotive manufacturers determine what they’ll do higher. Worse, it prevents them from realising that they is likely to be doing something improper.

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