A recent report in the New York Times found that between 1994 and 2020, the number of deaths increased by a staggering 140%, compared to 19% for pedestrians and 17% for cyclists. In contrast, automobile safety improved, with drivers now 10% less likely to die and vehicle passengers 42% less likely.
Building on that insight, a 2022 study by ValuePenguin found that the number of fatal crashes more than doubled between 2016 and 2020, suggesting our roads are increasingly becoming more dangerous for riders. The Study found that 49% of accidents occurred during the weekend, while the vast majority of deaths happened during the summer months.
As cars became safer during the 80s and 90s, many countries began taking pedestrian, cyclist, and motorcyclist safety seriously, introducing stronger speed limits, protected bike lanes, and transforming traffic flow in high-incident areas.
However, the United States has diverged considerably over that period. While in the 1990s, the U.S. and France had very similar fatality rates per capita, today, American road users are three times more likely to be killed in a traffic crash compared to their French counterparts.
With traffic fatalities falling in many countries around the world over the past decade, America has continued to be the exception, with the rates becoming even starker during the COVID-19 pandemic. As lockdowns and social distancing rules began to be implemented, the use of a vehicle plummeted significantly, as did the number of traffic fatalities. Yet, in the U.S., the opposite happened, and despite traffic dropping, the number of deaths on our roads increased in 2020 and again in 2021.
2021 saw nearly 43,000 people die in a traffic accident in America, and the vast majority of these were motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians. These three are the most vulnerable on our roads, and one of the primary reasons put forward for this difference on U.S. roads is down to how our current transportation system is designed.
Our roads are built to allow cars to move quickly, and not the idea of moving people safely. In heavily populated regions such as Tampa and Orlando, the road networks were built during the adoption of the automobile. This means that while they are fantastic for drivers, they are amongst the most dangerous for motorcyclists and other road users.
It is not just about the way that our roads are set out. In other countries across Europe and beyond where they not only responded by implementing various traffic laws, they also utilize more compact cars. In the United States, however, our vehicles have continued to grow significantly larger and thus deadlier when they become involved in an accident. The five-star federal rating used to inform buyers of their vehicle’s rating does not take into consideration what that car might do should it hit a rider or pedestrian.
Although last year’s bipartisan infrastructure does take a small step forward to helping improve the current system, it is not yet enough. If we want to improve the safety of our roads, then as a society, we will need to stop accepting this level of death each year and start focusing on the vehicles we are driving and the roads we are using.