By: Derek T. Jander, P.E.
Whenever I investigate a roadway incident and prepare an expert report involving vehicles, pedestrians, and/or bicycles and there is the unfortunate occurrence of injuries or, regrettably, something worse, I determine some simple things that could have been done to prevent the incident. Frequently in the news and media, and perhaps also in our own discussions or personal experiences regarding the circumstances behind an incident where a person is injured or killed, we refer to the incident as an “accident.” However, many of these accidents are, in fact, the result of conscious decisions, activities, and/or actions that could have been controlled and/or prevented. I am an avid bicycle rider. I make a conscious decision every time I ride to avoid riding on roadways with other vehicles, as “accidents” with a vehicle and bicycle do not typically end well for the bicyclist.
Fortunately for all of us, a trend has emerged, which first started in Sweden in the 1990s, and is presently gaining steam in the United States to eliminate “accidents.” This trend is called Vision Zero, and it is the name of a strategy that aspires to not just reduce but has an ambition to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for everyone. With Vision Zero, the goal is to provide for transportation systems that are forgiving in nature. Accidents will still happen, but their impact can be reduced. As an example, let us talk about vehicle speed. We all speed in our vehicles on occasion, and we have all heard the phrase “speed kills.” What does that mean? According to the Vision ZeroNetwork, “speed is recognized and prioritized as the fundamental factor in crash severity.” The following data from Vision Zero illustrates this:
- Pedestrian hit by a vehicle travelling at 20 MPH: 9 out of 10 pedestrians survive.
- Pedestrian hit by a vehicle travelling at 30 MPH: 5 out of 10 pedestrians survive.
- Pedestrian hit by a vehicle travelling at 40 MPH: 1 out of 10 pedestrians survive.
This is sobering data. From a personal observation standpoint, there is almost no day that goes by where I don’t see cars going at higher-than-necessary rates of speed in the vicinity of pedestrians and bicyclists, even when those pedestrians and bicyclists are children heading to school! Therefore, it surprises me that I do not see more investigations on my desk that involve vehicle and pedestrian incidents. Not that I want to see more injuries or deaths – quite the contrary. Nothing would make me happier than to see this type of workload disappear, entirely; down to ZERO, if you will. But the fact remains that accidents do exist, and here is how we can work toward eliminating them through Vision Zero:
- Get the Word Out About Vision Zero: As a civil engineer that has been the engineer-of-record on numerous roadway and transportation projects, I am in communication circles where Vision Zero is discussed and considered. However, I realize people outside of the engineering community may not have the opportunity to become as familiar with Vision Zero as I have. A great starting point and where I obtained the above data is https://visionzeronetwork.org/. Also, the Institute of Transportation Engineers at https://www.ite.org/ provides links and resources for personal education, and, most importantly, ways to connect with other people and governmental representatives to discuss and advocate for the importance eliminating severe and fatal incidents.
- Encourage Roadway Design that Prioritizes Safety: Wide traffic lanes with wide shoulders naturally compel drivers to drive faster. By utilizing a concept known as a “road diet,” if vehicle lanes are reduced (e.g., 4-lanes to 2-lanes), vehicle lanes are narrowed, and curb lines are brought closer to the travel lane, then drivers will instinctually drive slower. Add in some high-visibly crosswalks, median islands, and pedestrian bump-outs at intersections, and you have several cues that speak to a driver to slow down.
- Advocate for Complete Streets: Complete Streets is a concept that recognizes that a roadway is not just for cars. The roadway can also include, among others, public transportation, pedestrians, and bicycles. The roadway accommodates people with a range of ages, abilities, and mobility, and the roadway becomes a shared resource and not just a cars-first resource. The result is a healthier environment with slower-moving vehicles and a safer corridor for all roadway users.
These are just a few things to consider, and this just scratches the surface with the Vision Zero movement. There is a wealth of additional data out there and concepts to consider with respect to Vision Zero. However, it is important to remember we need to get the Vision Zero concept beyond just the engineering circles. Please, advocate for Vision Zero and help to significantly reduce incidents involving a vehicle and pedestrian or bicycle.
Also, remember that civil engineers design roadways evaluating the available sight distance, driver reaction time, and vehicle stopping distance. This information is used to determine posted speed limits. Exceeding the posted speed limit exposes you and others on the roadway to an increased risk of harm in the event a condition on the roadway results in a need for emergency braking. At the National Safety Council 44th annual National Safety Congress on October 22-26, 1956, in Chicago, Chairman Dearborn stated, “Let each and every one of us leave this great National Safety Congress and go back to his home and his job with a firm and unshakeable resolve to make 1957 the year that the war on accidents takes a turn for the better and heads for victory.” So be a defensive driver, drive safely, obey traffic laws and help to save a life. It may be your life that you are saving.
If you have a matter involving Roadway/Highway safety, please feel free to contact Mr. Jander for assistance: firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-889-0771.