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Better road design can reduce accidents and lead to fewer auto insurance claims, report says

Lower auto insurance rates may result from safer roads

A November report from nonprofit group Transportation for America suggests that road designs are inherently unsafe, leading to higher accident rates and more auto insurance claims.

The report, Dangerous by Design, says that modern roads are designed to maintain traffic throughput, leaving pedestrians and bicyclists woefully ignored. Auto collisions with walkers or bicyclists often end in critical injury or death, and with good reason: an average car driving at speed has even more impact force than its weight would suggest because of inertia.

So a 150-pound person has little chance of survival when he is hit by a 3,500-pound car traveling at 40 miles per hour.

And more people are walking, the report says. Communities are investing in public transportation – systems that require walking at least a short distance – and since 1995, public transit ridership has increased at twice the rate of miles driven. People report wanting to walk or bike: a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey cited by Transportation for America found that 71 percent of people would like to bicycle more and 53 percent favor increasing spending on bicycle lanes.

But state and federal transportation spending is leaving pedestrians and bicyclists out in the cold, the report shows. “The average metro area spends 2.2 percent of [its] federal transportation funds on projects to improve conditions for walking and bicycling,” Transportation for America said. Nationwide, spending on pedestrian safety makes up just 1.5 percent of federal transportation outlays.

Yet “pedestrians comprise 11.5 percent of all traffic deaths,” according to the report.

A recent Time magazine article highlighted Transportation for America’s findings about pedestrian safety in Florida. The four least-safe metropolitan areas for pedestrians are in Florida, data shows: 490 pedestrians were killed by cars there last year, the highest total of any state. And sprawling development coupled with inadequate road design makes the Southeast the most unsafe place for pedestrians. All but one of the ten least-safe metro areas are Southeastern.

Transportation for America says that “the most dangerous places to walk are those that fail to make smart infrastructure investments that make roads safer for everyone,” meaning that investments in safer roads have manifold benefits, including reduced auto insurance claims.

Traffic calming, a practice that appeared in Europe in the 1960s, is practically assured to make roads safer for drivers and pedestrians alike. In various studies, traffic calming – a practice that involves speed bumps and changes in road alignment – reduced accident rates between 8 and 100 percent. Children, especially, were safer when traffic calming measures were put in place.

Pedestrian safety will be an issue into the foreseeable future. More cars hit the road each year, and future vehicles will present unique safety challenges because of their near-silent operation. Pure electric vehicles and many hybrid vehicles are extraordinarily quiet at low speeds, a danger for vision-impaired pedestrians.

A NHTSA survey found that electric or hybrid vehicles can be twice as risky for pedestrians, compared to internal combustion cars. Electric vehicle builders are working with advocacy groups for the blind to develop noisemakers that would alert walkers to their presence.

Safer roads that encourage walking can save money and reduce congestion, Transportation for America noted. A “relatively small reduction in the number of miles traveled can result in big reductions in traffic congestion,” the group’s report found: a 3 percent decrease in miles driven last year resulted in a 30 percent reduction in traffic congestion.

For better road safety, fewer auto insurance claims and a higher quality of life, road designs must be made safe.

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Posted: December 2, 2009

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