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Dangerous By Design: Road Safety in the United States and the EU

Issue Brief

By: James Rehwaldt

Publish Date: September  01,  2014


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Recent Decades have seen significant reductions in traffic fatalities worldwide.

However, progress in the United States has begun to plateau; many U.S. roads remain poorly suited to pedestrian activity. Pedestrian fatalities in the United States have decreased by only 7% over the past decade, as opposed to an average 45% reduction within the EU. As Americans continue to lead increasingly healthier and more active lifestyles, the danger to pedestrians, cyclists, etc. is growing in tandem, especially for the most vulnerable road users: children, ethnic minorities, and the elderly.

U.S. cities with larger elderly populations have a higher pedestrian fatality risk.Pedestrian Safety

Smart Growth America’s recently published report “Dangerous by Design” examines causes of this recent decline in U.S. progress and assesses the relative danger to pedestrians, ranking U.S. cities via the Pedestrian Danger Index. Results indicate that 4 of the top 5 most dangerous cities to pedestrians (Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami) are popular among retirees, who are among the most vulnerable of road users and account for a disproportionate number of pedestrian fatalities in the United States.

The report also indicates that roadway design and infrastructure are the most common causes of U.S. pedestrian fatalities; more than half of pedestrian fatalities in the United States occur on ‘arterial’ roadways. This correlation is further evidenced by the significant reduction of pedestrian fatalities observed in cities with “Complete Streets” programs and more pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.

Traffic safety is among the EU’s policy concerns for the next decade.

In most Western European countries, traffic fatalities continue to decline. Though Europeans are many more times more likely to walk or bike in urban areas than are many are Americans, the levels of pedestrian fatalities are significantly lower in Western Europe than in the United States. Progress is expected to continue in the wake of the European Commission’s ambitious road safety targets for the next decade, aiming for an EU-wide 50% reduction in traffic fatalities across the board by 2020. Additionally, European policy has begun to focus its concerns specifically toward pedestrian safety improvements. Suggested measures include:

• Improved training and education of non-pedestrian road users
• Increased and cooperative traffic enforcement
• Safer infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists
• Safer vehicles: speed limiting and alcohol interlock devices
• Integrated technology to improve road safety for vulnerable users
• Improved emergency response services

The United States could do more to increase pedestrian road safety on a national scale.

AARP, in partnership with NGO’s such as Smart Growth America, America Walks, and the American Society of Landscape Architects, recommends the adoption of a national Complete Streets program and increased federal attention to pedestrian road safety. As Americans improve the health and activity of their lifestyles, U.S. infrastructure must adapt to increasing pedestrian traffi c to ensure safe, livable communities for all ages and levels of ability. Moreover, viable improvements could be adapted from European policies to further increase road safety in the United States for all Americans.

Further Reading / Sources
IRTAD Road Safety Report (2013)

Dangerous by Design Reports: (2014)

EU Commission (2011)

• Lynott, Jana. “Road Safety for All: Lessons from Western Europe.”
The Journal, AARP International. Summer, 2010.