Jul 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The scramble to prevent traffic deaths

Rate of traffic fatalities, by mode of transport and race/ethnicity
Data: Raifman, et al., 2020, “Disparities in Activity and Traffic Fatalities by Race/Ethnicity”; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Local and state governments and AI companies are working to improve road safety amid record-high road deaths.

Driving the news: Traffic fatality rates are especially high for Latinos and Black Americans, according to a study published last month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

  • Last year, the U.S. had 43,000 related deaths, a 16-year high, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which this May released $740 million in funding for states and communities to implement programs to address risky driving.

What they’re saying: Putting barriers between cyclists and pedestrians “is the ideal solution... especially given relatively lax safety regulations and speed enforcement in the U.S. compared to other nations,” said c0-author Matthew Raifman, an environmental health specialist at the University of Boston who worked with a Harvard researcher on the study.

  • He added it’s important that these measures account for racial and ethnic disparities, like how Black and Latino neighborhoods usually have less roadway infrastructure.

What’s happening: Low-cost measures like adding reflective borders to road signs could reduce collisions by 15%, Wes Guckert, president and CEO of transportation planning firm The Traffic Group, tells Axios Latino.

  • Start-ups are also working on tech to reduce deaths and injuries.
  • Software company Derq is developing artificial intelligence it says can alert drivers if a pedestrian is approaching the middle of an intersection and send mobile alerts to people walking or cycling if a car is headed towards them.
  • Slightly more costly solutions include adding crossing islands, which allow pedestrians to safely wait in the middle of an intersection, bike lanes with barriers, or installing curb extensions near crosswalks to increase visibility.

Yes, but: Overall roadway interventions aren't always popular, which could reduce the political will to implement them, Raifman said.

  • Home and business owners have complained about speed bumps and bike lanes in Austin, New York and Kansas City.
  • People who drive ⁠— as most Americans do⁠ — won’t like that some measures will extend their travel time, said Guckert said.

The big picture: Over 1.3 million people worldwide die in traffic collisions each year, data shows.

  • Global leaders last week unanimously committed to cut traffic deaths and injuries in half by 2030 during a United Nations gathering.
  • When presenting the Decade of Action for Road Safety plan, Secretary General António Guterres said “road accidents are a silent epidemic stalking us.”

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