A new report examining the global crisis of road deaths and traffic fatalities around the world found that despite having more resources to tackle road redesigns and reduce traffic fatalities, the U.S. is not keeping up with many of its peer nations when it comes to creating safer streets.
Sustainable and Safe: A Vision and Guidance for Zero Road Deaths, a joint report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Bank, analyzed how countries around the world approach traffic safety and roadway design.
Road deaths are a global issue: 1.25 million people are killed on the world’s roads each year, making it the 10th leading cause of death worldwide, especially among vulnerable populations of the elderly, young, and poor. This is compounded by economic costs, estimated to be $220 billion, or 5% of GDP, in a study of 82 countries.
WRI researchers say the U.S. has a particularly poor record of improving traffic safety in relation to the resources at its disposal. The study found that the U.S. was not falling behind for lack of funding, but due to its approach. A comprehensive undertaking that looks at the entire traffic system—often called Safe System overseas and Vision Zero in the U.S.—accepts human error and designs transport systems for safer driving and protected pedestrians. It is an approach that has seen success on state and city levels in the U.S., but has yet to be adopted nationwide.
Results internationally suggest the U.S. should make the shift. WRI data found that of 53 countries analyzed, those adopting the Safe System approach achieved both the lowest rates of traffic deaths and the largest reductions in fatalities over 20 years. If all countries adopted a Safe System approach, this could save nearly 1 million lives per year.
Recent traffic stats in the U.S., however, are not all negative, as the cities and states enacting Vision Zero programs have seen significant improvements. After Minnesota adopted a statewide Safe System-style approach in 2003, fatalities dropped 40.5% over the next decade, saving 2,046 lives. The first three years of Vision Zero in New York City were “the safest three-year period in the City’s history, and the first time in over a decade that traffic fatalities fell for three consecutive years,” according to a city report. San Francisco saw record-low levels of traffic fatalities last year.