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Road Design & Safety: Reducing Auto Accident Risks

By: Dan Hausman

Urban planners and politicians are shifting how streets are designed to increase safety for motorists and pedestrians. The Vision Zero Initiatives of Washington D.C., Montgomery County, and the City of Alexandria and resulting programs to improve safety show that the DMV area is committed to improving safety on the roads.

This commitment is much needed; the grim reality of the unsafe nature of automobile travel, especially as it relates to pedestrians, is shown by the tragic numbers. In 2017, traffic deaths hit a 25-year high in the United States. 40,000 people were killed in total and 6,000 were pedestrians. It is interesting and important to know how we got to where we are in order to best remedy the safety issues related to automobiles in the future.

Ralph Nader, in 1965, wrote a scathing book on the automobile industry called Unsafe at Any Speed, which accused automobile manufacturers of prioritizing profit over human lives. The book was a best seller that led to senate hearings and eventually the National Highway Safety Administration, which created regulations to improve automobile safety.

Those safety regulations were based on the most dangerous car accidents that were occurring at the time. Vehicles were running off the road and colliding with trees or other objects. To combat these types of accidents, not only did the government require automobile manufacturers to make safer cars equipped with airbags and gas tanks that were less likely to explode, but the government also required urban planners to create roads that were wider and left room for vehicles to stop when they ran off the road. The prevailing idea at the time was that drivers were going to make mistakes so it was necessary to make the roads and vehicles as forgiving as possible when those mistakes occurred.

Recently, studies have shown that the forgiving design of roads is actually more dangerous than other types of road design. People’s brains perceive the forgiving roads as safe and their speed on the roads inevitably creeps up. Speed kills:

  • 9 out of 10 times a pedestrian survives being hit by a car at 20 miles per hour.
  • 5 out of 10 times they survive being hit by a car at 30 miles per hour.
  • The survival rate for a pedestrian being hit by a car at 40 miles per hour is down to 1 in 10.

Urban planners and politicians are attempting to get drivers to slow down and one of the ways they are doing so is by designing roads that are safe for pedestrians and subconsciously promoting drivers to go slowly.

Hopefully, you will never be involved in an automobile collision. The efforts of our local politicians in their Vision Zero Initiatives and of advocates in our communities can help make that a reality. However, if you are involved in a collision involving an automobile, the attorneys here at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. would love to help you as you pursue justice and fair compensation. Please contact us to speak with a lawyer.