Street Design Changes in New York City are Saving Lives But Can More be Done?

A selected, urban component of the Vision Zero approach to highway safety is undoubtedly helping to save lives in New York City.

Aerial view of city crossroads and crosswalks.
City streets are the equal most-dangerous location for road users in the USA, but a carefully-planned Vision Zero approach to street layout and design — not shown in this photo — can do a great deal to reduce casualties. (Copyright image, 2012.)

On Jan. 8, 2018, the New York Times reported: ‘There were 101 pedestrians killed in crashes in 2017 — the lowest number since 1910 when the city began recording such deaths…’

And on July 9, according to Curbed New York, when it comes to the overall number of road deaths:  ‘Mayor de Blasio announced that the first six months of 2018 closed out with the fewest traffic fatalities ever measured in a six-month period in New York City.  As of June 30, the city had recorded 81 traffic fatalities, which is only the second time that fewer than 100 fatalities were recorded in a six-month period…’

Unfortunately, however, the same article also states:  ‘with the city’s authority to use speed and red light cameras set to expire [on July 25], following inaction from state lawmakers, officials fear that progress on reducing fatalities may be under threat…’

Clearly, as long as legislators give priority to anything other than maximum safety on the roads, then the resultant number of deaths will remain higher than it could be.

Photo of a city intesection at dusk.
An intersection, dusk light, impatient pedestrians, drivers incorrectly turning right on red, some drivers wisely using headlights – others believing that’s not necessary… It all adds up to a scenario where just one person’s poor judgement can result in injuries or death.  (Copyright image, 2018.)

And while Vision Zero — a Swedish initiative — is indeed a very powerful tool, it must be remembered that for at least three decades, two countries in particular have led the global goal of minimizing road deaths, namely Sweden and the UK, and to this day they, along with a few other countries that have now risen to the challenge, are still a very long way ahead of the USA in this field.  The reason for mentioning this important aspect is to make the point that while certain American cities and even states adopting the Vision Zero urban methodology is a great thing, it is still only one tool in the armory and the USA needs to concentrate on multiple approaches to the complex, overall problem from all of the leading nations, not just one solution from one of the nations, no matter how appealing the Vision Zero title might sound!

Although less ‘fashionable’ with highway safety personnel in the USA at present, just one of the undeniable additional factors in America’s very high rate of road deaths is the remarkably low standard of driver education and training, and inevitably this, it turn, is based upon the always inadequate and often dangerously inaccurate “official advice” given in state drivers manuals.

Eleven years ago, the CEO of Advanced Drivers of America [ADoNA], wrote a research paper under the deliberately pugnacious title of “State Drivers Manuals Can Kill Your Kids!”  The harsh title was added to increase attention for the simple reason that no DMV head office in any state would even discuss the weaker advice in their respective manuals when we politely and professionally asked for dialogue.  The ostrich buried its head in the sand!

Photo of a tractor on a rural road.
Apart from city streets, the other type of road in the ‘most dangerous’ category in the USA is rural roads, and that’s not generally a place where projects like ‘Vision Zero’ will typically make as a much difference, so a broader approach is needed if all road users on all types of road are going to be given greater safety.  (Copyright image, 2018.)

Since that time, to our delight and gratification, more and more states have started incorporating some of our recommended topics and advice from the research paper in newer versions of their state drivers manuals — an improvement, but by no means yet enough.

The “State Drivers Manuals Can Kill Your Kids!” research paper was published at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress, Detroit, and won an SAE award for the quality of the presentation.  It is still available for a fee of around $30 (which all goes to the SAE, not the author!), so if you wish to see just some of the ways that new drivers can be taught higher quality, safer information, it is an essential read.



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Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at:

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