Global traffic study suggests U.S lagging behind peers in road safety - Curbed

A new report examining the global crisis of road deaths and traffic fatalities around the world found that a more systemic approach to safety and traffic infrastructure can save lives. Despite having more resources to tackle road redesigns and reduce traffic fatalities, the United States isn’t keeping up with many of its peer nations when it comes to creating safer streets.

Sustainable and Safe: A Vision and Guidance for Zero Road Deaths, a joint report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Bank, analyzed how countries around the world approach traffic safety and roadway design. Road deaths are a global issue: 1.25 million people are killed on the world’s roads each year, making it the 10th leading cause of death worldwide, especially among vulnerable populations of the elderly, young, and poor. This tragic loss is compounded by economic costs, estimated to be $220 billion, or 5 percent of GDP, in a study of 82 countries.

While the situation in low- and middle-income countries has reached “epidemic proportions” according to report, coauthors Ben Welle and Anna Bray Sharpin, both WRI researchers, say the U.S. has a particularly poor record of improving traffic safety in relation to the resources at its disposal.

“The United States is one of the richest countries in the world, yet we have a very poor record of road safety,” says Welle. “The U.S. has nearly triple the fatalities of countries like Sweden or the Netherlands.”

Welle, Sharpin, and other researchers found that the U.S. wasn’t falling behind for lack of funding, but due to its approach. A comprehensive undertaking that looks at the entire traffic system—often called Safe System overseas and Vision Zero in the U.S.—accepts human error and designs transport systems for safer driving and protected pedestrians. It’s an approach that seen success on state and city levels in the United States, but has yet to be adopted in a more widespread manner.

If all countries adopted a Safe System approach this could save nearly 1 million lives per year. Results internationally suggest the U.S. should make the shift, especially considering our terrible record on child traffic fatalities. WRI data found that of 53 countries analyzed, those adopting the Safe System approach achieved both the lowest rates of traffic deaths and the largest reductions in fatalities over 20 years. If all countries adopted a Safe System approach this could save nearly 1 million lives per year.

“Something we’re bound to hear is that improving road safety is a luxury,” Sharpin says, “that it takes away money from other parts of the transit system. It doesn’t have to mean much higher costs. Redirecting as little as 1 to 3 percent of a transit budget towards safety can make a massive impact.”

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