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A New Traffic Safety Paradigm
Last Updated on December 4, 2018
By Todd Litman
Todd Litman is founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems. His work helps expand the range of impacts and options considered in transportation decision-making, improve evaluation methods, and make specialized technical concepts accessible to a larger audience. His research is used worldwide in transport planning and policy analysis.
During the last century traffic safety programs significantly reduced traffic casualty rates per unit of travel. However, these gains were partly offset by increased vehicle travel, resulting in smaller declines in casualty rates per capita. In the last decade, distance-based crash rates plateaued, causing traffic deaths to increase with vehicle travel growth. This indicates that current traffic safety strategies are becoming less effective, so new approaches are needed to achieve ambitious safety goals, such as Target Zero. New research improves our understanding of traffic risks and potential safety strategies. Total casualties are the product of distance-based crash rates and total vehicle travel. Policies that increase vehicle travel, such as urban roadway expansions and dispersed development, tend to increase
traffic casualties, while vehicle travel reduction strategies can increase safety, in addition to other benefits.
The new paradigm recognizes that all travel imposes risks; additional crashes result from policies and planning practices that stimulate vehicle travel; and the safety benefits provided by vehicle travel reduction strategies as more multimodal planning, efficient transport pricing, Smart Growth development policies, and Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs.
Many of these strategies provide significant cobenefits, besides increased safety. For example, more efficient transport pricing helps reduce congestion and pollution emissions, and can generate new revenues to finance pedestrian, bicycling and public transit service improvements. More compact development and more multimodal transport planning tend to increase transportation affordability, improve mobility options for non-drivers, and increase public fitness and health, and so are particularly beneficial to physically and economically disadvantaged people who want non-automobile travel options. When all impacts are considered, these new strategies are often the most efficient and equitable way to increase traffic safety.
The table on the following page summarizes examples of new paradigm safety strategies :