Why So Many Die on American Roads
Traffic deaths are going down in most of the world. Not here.
Writing for NYT, Emily Badger and Alicia Parlapiano explore “The Exceptionally American Problem of Rising Roadway Deaths.” The upshot:
The U.S. has diverged over the past decade from other comparably developed countries, where traffic fatalities have been falling. This American exception became even starker during the pandemic. In 2020, as car travel plummeted around the world, traffic fatalities broadly fell as well. But in the U.S., the opposite happened. Travel declined, and deaths still went up. Preliminary federal data suggests road fatalities rose again in 2021.
In 2021, nearly 43,000 people died on American roads, the government estimates. And the recent rise in fatalities has been particularly pronounced among those the government classifies as most vulnerable — cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians.
Much of the familiar explanation for America’s road safety record lies with a transportation system primarily designed to move cars quickly, not to move people safely.
“Motor vehicles are first, highways are first, and everything else is an afterthought,” said Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.
It has been thus my whole life, so seems normal. Of course the roads are there for cars, trucks, and buses. Indeed, we’ve institutionalized that:
That culture is baked into state transportation departments that have their roots in the era of Interstate highway construction (and through which most federal transportation dollars flow). And it’s especially apparent in Sun Belt metros like Tampa and Orlando that boomed after widespread adoption of the car — the roads there are among the most dangerous in the country for cyclists and pedestrians.
The cross-country comparisons are revealing, if somewhat misleading:
The fatality trends over the last 25 years, though, aren’t simply explained by America’s history of highway development or dependence on cars. In the 1990s, per capita roadway fatalities across developed countries were significantly higher than today. And they were higher in South Korea, New Zealand and Belgium than in the U.S. Then a revolution in car safety brought more seatbelt usage, standard-issue airbags and safer car frames, said Yonah Freemark, a researcher at the Urban Institute.
Fatalities fell as a result, in the U.S. and internationally. But as cars grew safer for the people inside them, the U.S. didn’t progress as other countries did to prioritizing the safety of people outside them.
“Other countries started to take seriously pedestrian and cyclist injuries in the 2000s — and started making that a priority in both vehicle design and street design — in a way that has never been committed to in the United States,” Mr. Freemark said.
Other developed countries lowered speed limits and built more protected bike lanes. They moved faster in making standard in-vehicle technology like automatic braking systems that detect pedestrians, and vehicle hoods that are less deadly to them. They designed roundabouts that reduce the danger at intersections, where fatalities disproportionately occur.
Most American cities and essentially all of our suburbs were built after the automobile was in widespread use. That’s not true of our European and Asian counterparts, which therefore have narrower, windier, and thus slower roads. And we have much longer commutes as well, incentivizing driving and higher speeds.
Outside of a handful of older cities, roundabouts (traffic circles) are foreign and most Americans don’t seem to know what to do when they encounter them. That’s a pity, because they’re much more efficient than having 4-way stops at every intersection.
But here’s the bigger issue, I think:
In the U.S. in the past two decades, by contrast, vehicles have grown significantly bigger and thus deadlier to the people they hit. Many states curb the ability of local governments to set lower speed limits. The five-star federal safety rating that consumers can look for when buying a car today doesn’t take into consideration what that car might do to pedestrians.
These diverging histories mean that while the U.S. and France had similar per capita fatality rates in the 1990s, Americans today are three times as likely to die in a traffic crash, according to Mr. Freemark’s research.
Americans have always loved big cars. We occasionally shift to buying smaller ones when gas prices skyrocket but revert to form once they drop. Europeans and Asians, by contrast, pay much more for fuel than we do and have for decades. That strongly incentivizes smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. And, indeed, the massive SUVs and four-door pickup trucks so common in the USA are essentially nonexistent in most of the world.
Over this time, more people have been traveling by motorcycle and bike in the U.S. Bike-share systems spread around the country, and new modes like electric bikes and scooters have followed, heightening the need to adapt roads — and the way users of all kinds share them — for a world not dominated solely by automobiles.
Cycling advocates said they expected there would be safety in numbers as more people biked and as drivers grew accustomed to sharing the road, reducing deaths. Instead, the opposite has happened.
We simply don’t have the infrastructure for any of this outside our major cities. So, the relative handful of people riding bicycles in suburban areas are on roads with 55 mph speed limits and no dedicated lanes.
There’s a winding 2-1/2 mile two-lane road that leads from out where I live into the nearest suburb. The lanes are thin and there are no curb lanes, much less sidewalks or bike paths. People tend to drive faster than the 30ish mph speed limit and trucks, especially, are prone to cross over into the other lane around curbs. Occasionally, I’ll encounter some poor sod trying to peddle a bike and thus blocking the road. It’s just dangerous all around.
Beyond that, even in major cities, where pedestrians and bicyclists are more common, we simply haven’t adopted a safety culture. Drivers are generally pretty good at stopping for red lights but they think nothing of turning right on red across a pedestrian crosswalk—even when pedestrians have the light. And, as I’ve noted many times over the years, bicyclists tend to make up their own rules, alternating between being in the driving lane but not observing stop signs or lights and jumping onto the sidewalks and suddenly becoming 25mph pedestrians. And the recent rise of rental scooters adds yet another variable.
On empty pandemic roads, it was easy to see exactly what kind of transportation infrastructure the U.S. had built: wide roads, even in city centers, that seemed to invite speeding. By the end of 2020 in New York, traffic fatalities on those roads had surged from prepandemic times.
“We have a system that allows this incredible abuse, if the conditions are ripe for it,” Mr. Freemark said.
And that’s precisely what the conditions were during the pandemic. There was little congestion holding back reckless drivers. Many cities also curtailed enforcement, closed DMV offices and offered reprieves for drivers who had unpaid tickets, expired drivers’ licenses and out-of-state tags.
I made the occasional foray to the hardware or grocery store during our brief semi-lockdown in March-April 2020. It was surreal to be on the road with hardly any other cars. But, yes, the proportion of people driving recklessly was higher. We’re used to traffic being the primary regulator of our speed. That’s even more so in a place like New York, where traffic is otherwise at a near standstill pretty much all the time.
The pandemic made more apparent how much American infrastructure contributes to dangerous conditions, in ways that can’t be easily explained by other factors.
“We are not the only country with alcohol,” said Beth Osborne, director of the advocacy group Transportation for America. “We’re not the only country with smartphones and distraction. We were not the only country impacted by the worldwide pandemic.”
Rather, she said, other countries have designed transportation systems where human emotion and error are less likely to produce deadly results on roadways.
What the U.S. can do to change this is obvious, advocates say: like outfitting trucks with side underride guards to prevent people from being pulled underneath, or narrowing the roads that cars share with bikes so that drivers intuit they should drive slower.
“We know what the problem is, we know what the solution is,” said Caron Whitaker, deputy executive director at the League of American Bicyclists. “We just don’t have the political will to do it.”
How much of this is societal and how much is political is hard to say. My strong suspicion, though, is that most of the other countries have far more centralized regulatory regimes and ones in which transportation experts simply make the rules without needing much input from politicians. We, on the other hand, have overlapping county, city, state, and federal regulations with interlocking lobbying efforts from the transportation industry and various safety advocacy groups.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year takes modest steps toward changing that. There is more federal money for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. And states will now be required to analyze fatalities and serious injuries among “vulnerable road users” — people outside of cars — to identify the most dangerous traffic corridors and potential ways to fix them.
States where vulnerable road users make up at least 15 percent of fatalities must spend at least 15 percent of their federal safety funds on improvements prioritizing those vulnerable users. Today, 32 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia face that mandate.
There was essentially no public debate on any of that. My guess is that it was put in there by a subcommittee as a pet project of an influential chairman and passed into law because it didn’t attract any objections. It seems reasonable enough; whether it’ll have a significant impact on safety remains to be seen.
This used to drive me nuts as well, until I just recently learned that the laws have been changed (at least here) to allow cyclists to not come to complete stops at stop signs or lights, if there is no oncoming traffic. I’m still coming to terms with not getting to be annoyed by that anymore.
They still shouldn’t be riding on the sidewalks, though.
This is a hallmark of American politics. “safety advocacy groups” are typically full of people who have been personally affected by a problem. Americans, or at least Americans in power positions, seem to lack actual empathy – we must be personally damaged before we care about our fellow citizens.
Like most things this is multifactorial. Other than in the eastern corridor travel by train isn’t as practical in the U. S as in most European countries. I wonder what the fatality rate is per mile driven? It’s also a lot easier to lose your license for DUI in most European countries than it is here.
I also suspect that most of the fatalities are in urban areas and mostly due to too many cars on poorly maintained roads. Rural areas tend to have higher incidences relative to miles driven and lower total numbers. Enforcement of traffic laws is a major issue.
It’s likely quite hilly as well, which means the bicyclists have an even harder time maintaining any speed at all and it’s even more dangerous to go around them because you can’t see what’s over the top of the hill.
If I had a dollar for every time a typically-entitled NoVA driver almost hit me while I was crossing in a crosswalk–either at a light or a marked zebra-stripe somewhere–I could retire tomorrow. I’ve been standing on the center line in a marked crosswalk and had drivers blow by me doing 40. A close second to this is almost getting rear-ended when stopping for crossing pedestrians.
I must point out that Germany, a country where most highway miles have no speed limit at all, loses far fewer drivers to traffic mishaps. I credit this to a couple things: they actually have lane discipline, and they train drivers very well. Americans’ lane discipline is utter garbage and the lack of it contributes to traffic backups and accidents.
When it comes to driver training, Americans learn how to operate motor vehicles, but Germans learn how to drive.
There is also a big social component – in many parts of the US not going by car is usually not a choice but a sign of not being able to afford one.
My town is the typical car town – mostly developed post-war in a fast four lane thoroughfare grid. Add 1000 ft altitude difference between center and suburb and you really don’t see much non-car traffic.
But most traffic fatalities seem to be homeless or drunks (crossing the interstate at 3 am doesn’t seem a good idea to most people), going by the times and locations reported. Few European cities have that kind of late night wanderers we have in our cities, and the numbers are climbing.
Before I came across the Times article yesterday, I viewed a video posted at Vox on the the (statistically) most dangerous road in America, in Fla, of course. It struck me after seeing both, that America’s refusal to deal with its traffic deaths is equivalent to its refusal to deal with gun violence and for that matter take seriously the dangers of Covid.
From a sociological level and psychologically at a personal level, there is a lot to unpack, but I’m not hopeful that things will change much.
The cyclist isn’t blocking the road, you know.
Add “mentality” to “infrastructure” and “big cars.”
And it’s not just with regard to cyclists. Drivers in the left lane who put their cars on cruise control without any regard for other traffic is also not something you tend to see in other places.
By and large, Americans aren’t really very good drivers either. We have a short training period for pretty young drivers, and we have lousy public transportation systems, which keeps the elderly driving for longer than they really should.
Throughout Europe and the parts of Canada I’ve been to, drivers seem to be more focused, more polite, and more skilled.
Global average, car fatalities per million miles driven: 1.35
US average, car fatalities per million miles driven: 1.34
(Africa is really bad)
My big beef is lack of regard for pedestrians in crosswalks. Even though they have the right of way. It doesn’t seem to matter whether there is a school zone or other busy location, pedestrians are on their own.
When I lived in Japan, it was emphasized that pedestrians have the right of way, even outside of a crosswalk. If a little old mama-san decides to step into the street to get to the other side, you better stop or else.
Having spent a lot of time of military bases, it is interesting how disciplined drivers are at crosswalks versus just outside the gate. It is more than a matter of rules, it is a matter of culture.
Don’t get me started on lane discipline, I’ve been run off the road 3 times in the past 6 years, a trucker almost killed me on election day 2016. Maybe it was a sign.
Out here in the hills and hollers the idea seems to be that as long as nobody is using that oncoming traffic lane, they can. At least once every week or 2 (I only drive into town 2 or 3 times a week), I come around a curve to find some inattentive asshole is coming at me 1/4 of the way into my lane because he’s running late and thinks an extra 5 mph is gonna make a difference. There is no shoulder, just a ditch to dive into and hope you can drive back out of it. I’ve lost count of the # of times I got a face full of glass from slapping mirrors.
And no, they never stop to exchange info.
@Mikey: I’m not overly shocked that Northern Virginia is bad at this given that it’s mostly suburban. But I’ve encountered the same thing in big cities. Philadelphia is just awful in that regard despite a ton of pedestrians.
@drj: If you’re peddling 10-15 mph on a high-traffic, one-lane road with a 30-35 mph speed limit, yes, you’re blocking the road.
The touristy areas of Vegas are very pedestrian friendly. All intersections with major foot traffic on the Strip have traffic lights, and/or pedestrian bridges (with escalators out there in the open air!). Downtown, the major part is a pedestrian street closed to traffic, half of it covered by a canopy that does light shows at night.
Away from that, not so much. Some of the newer parts lack sidewalks, traffic lights, or even stop signs. I don’t venture much there. The thing is, if you reach those parts by car you don’t even notice the deficiencies. It’s only when you have to walk there you see the many hazards.
If there is no bike lane, drivers must share the road.
But I guess not being considerate of other road users is too much to ask.*
Which was pretty much my point.
* You should really ask @Mikey or @Scott how such an apparant lack of consideration would play in Germany or Japan.
Crossing the street in Mpls is an exercise in taking your life in your hands. St. Louis was far better. Interestingly a couple of the best places that I’ve been a pedestrian are Manhattan and Boston, likely due to numbers, narrow streets and slow traffic. No complaints about Cow Hampshire, folks generally stop for crossing pedestrians.
Bicyclist have been mentioned. My pet peeve with them isn’t individuals or small groups, but packs of 10-50 that are living out their Tour de France fantasy on public roads. They do block traffic and make it impossible for a pedestrian to cross, as they won’t stop due to fears of starting a chain of collisions behind them.
Bikes have a right to the road. Slow down, give them room, and pass when it’s safe to,while providing a minimum of 3 feet of distance between the cyclist and the car.
It’s precisely this type of attitude that I find problematic in the US. We were in Italy in 2018, and repeatedly found ourselves behind cycling groups/teams going up steep mountain roads. Everyone behaved, nobody got fussy and tried to pass on a dangerous curve–nor did they get irritated at the cyclists.
@drj: @Jen: I’m not running these people over. The reason I say that they’re “blocking the road” is that, on a two-lane*, windy road of that nature, passing is unsafe and usually illegal. Drivers are simply stuck behind them for 2-plus miles. That’s highly problematic.
*I alternate between calling this a 1- and 2-lane road. There’s one narrow lane going in each direction.
The death rate per million miles driven is about twice as high in rural areas vs urban, 1.84 vs 1.08. There are more urban miles driven so rural deaths are about 43% of the total, though most of that is due to pedestrian deaths. Some of that is likely due to larger vehicles like pickups in rural areas but some of it is just because you have less access to trauma care right away or good trauma care.
@drj: @Jen: @James Joyner:
On the other hand, just as a farm tractor or a slow driver moves over to let the backup of cars go by, I would expect the same of a cyclist or group of cyclists.
Excuse me, just want to note the overly privileged person here.
“I have a car and should be able to drive at any speed I want, but you, you lowly cyclist are impeding me from living the privileged existence I want to enjoy by using the roads you have every right to in way and at a time that inconveniences ME!”
I wonder James, are you even half as indignant when you get stuck behind a nearsighted little old lady going 10-15 mph because she is terrified of having an accident?
As my wife is constantly reminding me, “Patience is a virtue.” and one I have very little of. But it’s funny I have no problem sharing my hilly and winding road with cyclists.
I wonder how much cycling is seen as recreation, rather than a means of transportation. In europe it’s far more common for people to cycle to work or school than in the US or Mexico.
I do get irritated by slow drivers who don’t get that doing 30 kph in a 60 kph road is a hazard to them and everyone else. more so if it’s a multiple lane road, and they engage in their slow progress in the leftmost lane. When I have to go slow, as in heavy rain, I take the rightmost lane.
I’ve never seen a roundabout in the US that looks safe for pedestrians. Granted, my experience with them is fairly limited, but if I were a pedestrian, I would walk out of my way to cross anywhere but a roundabout. People can barely figure out how to use them to begin with, throw a pedestrian in the mix and brains would explode.
@Jax: Heck, try finding a roundabout that looks like it’s safe for cars.…
@grumpy realist: Roundabouts are FAR safer for cars than 3- or 4-way stops. Accidents in roundabouts tend to be fender-benders and highly survivable, which is not the case when people run red lights either trying to beat the signal or inattention.
Americans are not accustomed to driving them, which is what makes them dodgy. I think we should be putting them everywhere and forcing people to get used to them–and better at navigating them. Which goes back to my point: Americans really aren’t very good drivers.
@Jen: I love roundabouts. Anything that can get rid of a traffic light, and do so safely and efficiently, is awesome. Roundabouts succeed.
The problem with roundabouts is that, during “drive time” (morning/evening commute), all the traffic is entering from one way, keeping the roundabout filled so nobody else can enter.
@drj: German cities tend to have adequate bike lanes. Small towns and villages have relatively low speed limits anyway so cyclists are probably going about as fast as cars. The only times I’ve had to deal with passing cyclists in the road is on the Landstrassen, and for the most part those are well-designed and it’s easy to pass cyclists and slower drivers so it isn’t really a problem.
Unless these cyclists aren’t taxpayers, they are part of the “public” in “public roads.”
While they need to be more polite to pedestrians, in my experience packs of cyclists like this are often a safety requirement. I’ve been hit by cars twice when riding solo. I’ve never come within touching distance of a car when riding in a pack. Indeed, as Joyner points out, having to travel a mile or two at a slower speed makes drivers quite mad; mad drivers don’t often pass safely, nor stop when they knock you off the road and send you to the hospital. So pack riding it is.
I just moved to the roundabout capital of the US (well, a couple of towns over, but the roundabout craze has taken over all of Indy’s northern ‘burbs).
Simply put, they are awesome…once people get used to them. Traffic is unfathomably more efficient, gas mileage is better, and yes even crossing the street is easier. Again, once drivers get used to it. Until then…
@Neil Hudelson: In Virginia, at least, riding two abreast is illegal.
Searched Speed Kills just for shits and grins. Not like I think that anyone will slow down.
Found this which I thought was kind of amusing.
But that’s true of any intersection on a given road that is used as a primary route. Have you ever had to go through a 4-way stop on a road that is only busy during rush hour? A line of cars multiple miles long, all entering the same way, but with each one coming to a full stop (or close enough) then continuing, vs the majority having to briefly slow down as they scan for incoming traffic before moving on. The second option is much faster.
If you are comparing, say, intersections of major roads with traffic signals vs replacing that traffic signal with a roundabout, I get it. But, at least in my experience, roundabouts are used much more for intersections that would traditionally have a 4-way stop.
I take your point, though technically riding two abreast is perfectly legal so long as they move to single-file when being overtaken by a faster vehicle. Riding three abreast, though, is illegal.
Alluded to in the article, but I believe unremarked so far in comments, is our penchant for buying large vehicles. I believe in larger percentages than most of the world. There’s commentary elsewhere that pedestrian and bicycle collisions that used to be serious injuries are now fatal. A sedan fender or nose will hit a pedestrian below the waist and maybe roll them over the hood. A big SUV or pickup will take them in the chest.
Agree. I spent 7 months driving in Tuscany and Florence itself, and up into France and Germany, and American drivers are just awful in comparison to Italians. Untrained, clueless, distracted and entitled. And American cyclists and motorcyclists are even worse. Don’t ask me to feel pity for some jackass on a motorcycle driving 120 mph between two lanes of traffic.
I may have come very close to killing Robin Williams when I lived in Tiburon. On the back side – where Williams lived – the single road is very curvy. I was stopped, waiting for a break in traffic to turn left across traffic. And as I was letting off the brake and a split second from pumping the gas, a swarm of cyclists zoomed around me. I had the top down so offered my opinion of people who rely on me to not kill them. Someone remonstrated, but then a bunch of hair under a helmet, with a weirdly familiar voice broke in, “No, no, he’s right.”
As in so may things, Americans are idiots with unearned self-confidence. Still, glad I didn’t run over Robin Williams.
Because pedestrians aren’t supposed to be crossing the roundabout, they’re supposed to go around them…
There is one roundabout near work where I drive often. I think five or six streets intersect there. The usual way to navigate it is to stay in the inside lane while turning. When you’re close to your exit, you move to the outside lane and then take the exit. There tends to be bad traffic between 6 and 8 pm, but usually you don’t get stuck in the roundabout, only on the busier streets that meet it.
Other roundabouts in the city are ornamental. There are traffic lights to manage the intersections, but the roundabouts are well kept and many have flower beds or sculptures. Paseo the la Reforma, in particular, famously holds the Independence column with a gilded angel at the top. Another has a fountain topped by a depiction of Diana the Hunter.
@Jon: Except that where I live, sidewalks are marked with signage announcing that they are bicycle lanes.
One of the youtubers I follow is “not just bikes” who moved to the Netherlands but lived in a lot of other countries before that. He talks a lot about city planning and infrastructure and I have learned heaps of new things. American infrastructure is so bad (not everywhere, but in a lot of places) for a number of reasons. Zoning, suburbs, stupid traffic lights, preference for cars instead of people movements, etc. This video (8 minutes) might be a nice starting point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVUeqxXwCA0
“Drivers are generally pretty good at stopping for red lights but they think nothing of turning right on red across a pedestrian crosswalk—even when pedestrians have the light.”
Oregon Health Science Institute did a study a couple of years ago that studied driver perception by tracking where drivers look as they drive. As I recall, it discovered that drivers making turn are uniform in not looking a crosswalks/pedestrian corners/etc. but focus all of their attention on oncoming traffic. Making turns, drivers will routinely look past the pedestrian zones to focus on the oncoming cars.
@Stormy Dragon: This is where my unfamiliarity with them comes in. There are two in the city we go to for shopping that I avoid like the plague. The speed limits on all sides are 45 mph. I don’t recall any pedestrian crossing areas on any of the roads coming into it. I honestly don’t know how you’d go around it safely, as a pedestrian.
My county doesn’t even have any stoplights. There’s a pedestrian crossing light in the next town over, but that’s it. 😛 😛
@Mu: “But most traffic fatalities seem to be homeless or drunks”
Well, at least it’s not actual people dying in traffic fatalities, then. 🙁
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
There was also a recent study that looked into other reasons that turning drivers were hitting pedestrians. Turns out the large “A”” columns (on either side of the wind shield–mandated to be bigger by the government”) are now so large that they block the view of pedestrians, bikes, and even small cars.
I know there are places on my drive where I have to lean over to the middle of the car to see if there’s oncoming traffic around the curve, because the entire road to my left is blocked by column.
@Mu Yixiao: Most roundabouts where I live are on less traveled roads that would normally have 3-way (usually) stops because of being at freeway exit ramps. But even in Portland, OR, roundabouts have not given me the experience you describe. Yes, traffic backs up on the rush-hour arterial, but no more than it would at a 4-way stop. (It’s also rare for opposing lane traffic to be heavy enough to back up. And round these parts, we don’t see the kind of back-to-back traffic you’re describing on the circle itself.)
Riding 2 abreast is illegal and there’s a max group size of 10, so there’s a question of compliance.
Yes, I’ve experienced that effect myself. Also, I live in one of America’s famous “Tree City USA” cites and marvel at how many parking strip/lot edge plantings seem designed to eliminate one’s ability to see oncoming traffic of any sort.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: They’re large because they’re housing an air bag. And they’re often raked back for styling, which makes them even more obstructive. Whenever I see a “Watch Out for Motorcycles” sticker I recall that when I started riding everyone told me to assume nobody saw me and watch out for my own ass. But I try to look, and I’ve missed motorcycles, cyclists, and pedestrians hidden by the huge A pillars on my Honda.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Yeah, my hometown is famous for divided streets, with median strips full of local flora. And when some yahoo (millions of ’em around here) barrels down the street doing 50 mph in a 30 mph zone, you take your life in your hands trying to pull out into traffic. And I won’t say anything about the spastic reactions to going through a roundabout.
Another difference between nations while I was in Korea was the difference in attitude relative to driving and alcohol consumption. Korea had very stiff penalties for DUI and just one instance could be enough to result in suspension of a driver’s license–which happened when a driver accumulated 100 points and a DUI was said to be worth 99, so a parking violation and a DUI would equal a license suspension. To that end, one business that was popular in cities that I lived in was driving services that a person who had been out drinking would call to have himself and his car driven home. (I only had one or two experiences with people using driving services. We usually went drinking close to home and even in cases where I was meeting people, we always took either buses or taxis to our destinations.)
For a comparison, I remember a sign posted at concession stands advising patrons on how many King Beers (32 ounces each) one could safely drink to avoid being pulled over for DUI depending on the event and time one started (and stopped) drinking (all relative to body mass, too). I also remember how many of my coworkers in the produce industry petitioned the courts for relief from suspension of their driver’s licenses because “I’ll not be able to get to work if my license is suspended.”* Our attitudes about alcohol seem different in the US than in other countries.
*The grand champion of DUI pleas came from a coworker who, accused of vehicular homicide as well as DUI, pled not guilty by reason of having been unaware of what he was doing because he was drinking while taking Anatbuse for treatment of alcoholism and didn’t realize that doing so made it dangerous to drive. 🙁
I thought I would trigger a whole lot of folks with my comment above, but only Kathy replied.
Which… I do too. But I know a few cyclists who peddle the back roads as they have every right to do, and you wouldn’t believe the abuse they get subjected to. One buddy of mine (who had an ass that could crack black walnuts) had had any number of things thrown at him: Nuts and bolts to cans of beer to full gallon cans of paint. (the paint can hit him mid back and laid him out on an Arkansas highway flat on his face).
I get the frustration, I do. But when one is a part of a society, one doesn’t get to dictate how the rest of a society behaves. It’s a matter of give and take.
On any road, my sympathies are going to be with the guy/gal on a bike.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Sounds like my ex.
The crosswalks for a roundabout are generally setback about 20-30 feet out from the central ring, so the pedestrians can cross the radial roads one at a time instead of trying to cut through the circle in the middle. This also reduces the size of the crossings so the pedestrians spend less time on the roadway.
I meet few cyclist on the road, and they tend to stay near the curb. So largely they’re not a problem.
Motorcycle drivers are something else. I don’t mind when they try to weave through standstill traffic. But when they drive at speed on the lines between lanes, weaving in and out of traffic, instead of taking a spot in a lane like they should, I fret I’ll run one over I can’t see, or sideswipe one who snoke up on me.
About the only saving grace is they are so loud I can hear them even when they are in a blind spot.
It’s also dependent on the angle of the windshield and where the driver sits in relation to them — my old Toyota Solara left me with massive blind spots, while with my new-ish Suburu Forester is way, way easier to spot the pesky pedestrians.
I doubt the columns are thinner on the 2019 car than the 2004, but much better visibility.
@Jax: There are lots of roundabouts on side streets in Seattle — a little tuft of grass and flowers and maybe a bush, to look nice and semi-urban-parklet.
They are so much nicer than the usual “who has the right of way” no-stop-sign intersections and there’s enough visibility that no one is nosing in front of potential traffic because they can’t see past the giant SUV parked close to the corner.
And they slow traffic because no one quite knows what to do with one. And not really worse for pedestrians (somewhat better, as they slow the traffic, but you can’t easily cross diagonally).
So, roundabouts have a place in semi-dense city neighborhoods at least. I wish Seattle used more of them.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Seattle has achieved a greater equity in traffic fatalities through the careful deployment of many dangerous intersections, long stretches of road with no crosswalks, and bicycle lanes to the right of cars doing the right on red thing at the bottom of a hill.
Our department of transportation should consider a new slogan: You don’t need to be drunk or crazy to get killed by our infrastructure!
‘Average’ should not be the goal. Also, most VMT rates are per 100 million miles. The other common rate for comparison is per 100,000 population. VMT only compares crash numbers to automobile miles driven, so you could have the same number of fatal crashes, but drive more and achieve a lower rate, like in less populous states like Wyoming. Crashes per 100,000 population gets closer to how all people move about, not just people that drive, and since Wyoming (sorry) has a lower population, the longer driving distance would not dilute the rate. The OECD has reports for it’s member countries and uses both rates for comparison.
All modern roundabouts have median islands separating incoming and outgoing auto traffic. Pedestrians don’t have to find a gap in two directions of traffic, just one. This is safer for pedestrians, especially for younger or older ones, because they only need to concentrate on one direction of traffic at a time. This is what is meant by a two-phase crossing. Cross the first half, pause if you need to, then cross the second half. With the lower design speed of 15-20 mph, roundabout medians become very safe places to cross. It’s estimated that median refuges for pedestrians reduce crashes by 25% or better.
On multi-lane crossings pedestrian beacons are often added if the auto (or pedestrian) traffic is too numerous. The beacons (rectangular rapid flashing, RRFB, or pedestrian hybrid, PHB) can also be two-phase, requiring the pedestrian to push a second button when they get to the median. The median should have a Z path to reorient the pedestrian to view oncoming traffic. Also, the pedestrian hybrid beacons usually rest in off, so they are only activated if a pedestrian needs the help crossing. This way only motorists that need to stop are delayed.
That can happen at any intersection and is solved in the same way – adding lanes. Also, it only takes one opposing left or left of dominant flow left or through to disrupt a dominant entry since vehicles in the roundabout have the right of way.
The operation you are describing is not a modern roundabout, but a rotary or traffic circle. You never should have to change lanes in a modern roundabout circular roadway. If you do it means you entered in the wrong lane.
Name the intersection.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Modern roundabouts don’t have stop signs. They are yield on entry at all entries.
Seattle and Portland’s neighborhood traffic circles are not modern roundabouts.
The cyclist? Couldn’t agree more.
In a perfect world, we would have infrastructure that supports bicycles as a viable urban transportation mode. Europe has it. We don’t. The “bike lanes” in suburban VA are a joke, seemingly designed to maximize the chances of fatal accident. And the actual roads are already near saturation at all times; adding once cyclist pretending to be a vehicle is enough to tip the traffic from “congested” to “gridlock” in most places at most times.
…but we don’t tell them to cycle on the sidewalks because… I’m sure there’s a reason. Something about protecting pedestrians from them. If there were any pedestrians. (Or any sidewalks, in many places.)
Why aren’t the bike lanes on the verge, instead of in the road? Because… Nope, can’t think of a reason. But pretending that a pedal-powered scooter is the same as a car for purposes of traffic laws is beyond disingenuous in high-traffic areas, and cordoning off bike lanes that cross the active traffic at every intersection and vanish now and then is just begging for mayhem. And I’m sorry, if I have to choose between traffic that flows and catering to the desire to bike to work, I choose traffic that flows.
@Scott Batson, PE:
Hello Mr PE (I’m one as well) who just air dropped in. Neighborhood traffic calming rotaries/roundabouts are not the same as arterial/collector traffic circles = WA and OR residential circles are traffic calming measures. I know their minds will explode with a divergent diamond intersection.