- Overall, our streets remain about as dangerous as ever for all users and especially bicyclists and pedestrians.
- 2021 should be a time for redoubled efforts to collect data to improve infrastructure and eliminate preventable deaths.
Better and more timely data to help improve bicycling and other multimodal infrastructure is a critical need if the region is to reach stated goals to reduce traffic fatalities. But, as FABB has been highlighting recently, bicyclists, pedestrians, and other vulnerable road users need to demand that government and transportation departments do more to collect this data.
In mid-December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released federal safety statistics for 2019. The data, which typically takes nearly a year to assemble, indicated that walking and cycling crashes and injuries on American roads increased in 2019. In the case of bicyclists, approximately 2,000 more were injured in 2019 than in 2018.
Fortunately, the number of fatalities declined slightly in 2019, most likely because doctors are getting better at saving lives after collisions. Injuries in the “non-occupant” category — the umbrella term for pedestrians, cyclists, and assistive device users traveling outside cars — increased by 2.2 percent — and they rose an especially troubling 4.3 percent among cyclists. As Kea Wilson noted on StreetsblogUSA, these numbers indicate that progress towards Vision Zero is being won in the emergency room rather than in the streets.
It is worth adding that, while the FHTSA report did not break down the economic cost of traffic deaths and injuries, a separate recent FHTSA report, People Saving People: On the Road to a Healthier Future, noted that:
In 1996, 41,907 people were killed and 3,511,000 people were injured in police reported crashes. The lifetime economic cost of these crashes is over $150 billion annually. The share borne by tax payers is staggering: the public pays 13 percent of the cost of injuries treated in an emergency department; 26 percent of the cost of injuries requiring hospitalization; and 48 percent of the cost of injuries treated in a rehabilitation hospital.
Given the ever increasing cost of medical care, the lifetime economic costs of the crashes in 2019 will likely be even higher and more burdensome on American taxpayers.
Back at the end of this summer, data collected by the traffic engineering firm Sam Schwartz on traffic fatalities during the first six months of 2020 indicated that Americans—motorists, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists—were being killed at higher rate than in 2019 even though total travel was down because of the pandemic. Although overall deaths had fallen, the Sam Schwartz data revealed that the death rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 1.15 for the first six months of 2020, up from 1.02 during the same January-June period in 2019, an increase of 12.7 percent. [Preliminary FHTSA figures for the first half of 2002 estimated a higher death rate of 1.25 per 100 million vehicle miles.] You can find more details on the report in Gersh Kuntzman’s Streetsblog USA article, 2020 Roadway Deaths are Way Higher Than Normal. Again, the numbers might be worse but for medical professionals, who also were dealing with the increased strain of dealing with a pandemic.
In short, streets remain dangerous, especially for bicyclists and pedestrians, even when traffic decreases because roads are engineered more for fast speeds than for safety. And, given the cost to the nation, state, and county of medical care of traffic crashes, it is penny-wise and pound-foolish not to invest more on gathering the information needed to make real changes to our transportation infrastructure. FABB encourages all riders to contact local, state, and national government officials to demand redoubled efforts to collect data to improve infrastructure and eliminate preventable deaths.