Americans 16 and older spend almost an hour a day on average behind the steering wheel, according to AAA — more time than they spend socializing with other people [PDF]. That works out to 290 hours a year, or a little more than seven 40-hour work weeks.
Perhaps because driving is so routine here, we tend not to give it much thought. For most Americans, driving is an unremarkable activity. It’s easy to turn the ignition and let our mental autopilot take over.
But we’re still making weighty decisions behind the wheel — we’re just not very aware of them. Our driving behavior can be a matter of life or death for ourselves, our loved ones, and total strangers. Around 40,000 Americans were killed on the roads last year, and millions more were injured.
Serious crashes aren’t so frequent that people have to confront death and injury on a daily basis. And that can lull us into overlooking the potential for severe consequences when making decisions that feel mundane. Decisions like whether to hit the gas or the brake when approaching a yellow light. Or whether to reach for your cell phone on the passenger seat while you’re cruising down a familiar street. Or whether to do a shoulder check for pedestrians and cyclists before making a turn.
Nothing alerts you to the extent of driver inattention, carelessness, and aggression quite like walking with little kids. I have learned, for example, that drivers aren’t necessarily more cautious around people who are visibly pregnant or have a baby in a stroller. But some do seem to at least slow down when they see you crossing the street with an unrestrained toddler.
I think I’ve also become a more considerate driver. It’s not enough to merely take care not to hit pedestrians (which is still a higher bar than a lot of drivers meet). I try to drive in a way that puts people outside the car at ease and won’t register as a potential risk to them.
Many people set out on a driving trip with one goal: to make it as short as possible. But the idea that we can control our travel time through our driving is mostly an illusion. Speeding, even on very long journeys, isn’t the time saver we might assume.
What we can control, to a much greater degree, is the potential for harm caused by our driving.
In his book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us), Tom Vanderbilt writes that the act of driving distorts human behavior in a few important ways. One is that it insulates us from feedback. If you do something anti-social while driving, there is no mechanism to receive the kind of negative reinforcement you would in a face-to-face setting. You might get honked or cursed at, but soon enough you’ll be on your way.
That’s part of why driving is so morally weighty. It has the power to cause great harm, while also shielding people in a cloak of anonymity. This is a great temptation for some people — maybe most — whose urge is to see how much they can get away with. Resisting this urge means thinking outside yourself and applying some ethical calculus to the situation.
Now, speed-related collisions are responsible for about as many deaths each year — 10,000 — as drunk driving. We need to change how people view what’s right and wrong when they’re behind the wheel. What would it take for people to start thinking of common behaviors that pose grave risks — like texting and driving, or speeding, or failing to pay attention to people walking and biking — in the same moral terms that they now view drunk driving?
Bike theft is the scourge of cyclists around the world, with riders, manufacturers and the law struggling to coordinate a response. That was until city cop Rob Brunt and Xbox pioneer J Allard devised Project 529
By Tom Babin, The Guardian
The experience rattled him. Not only did he feel victimised, he was bothered by the lacklustre police response. He started to look into why bike theft had come to seem like a problem without a solution, accepted by so many as an unavoidable part of urban life.
“I just couldn’t accept the answers to the questions I was asking after my bike was stolen,” he says over a beer at a Vancouver pub. “I reject the notion that getting a bike stolen is just part of riding a bike.”
But bike theft is rampant in cities all over the world. In London, about 20,000 bikes are reported stolen every year; 72 went missing from Milton Keyes station alone last year. Theft costs Portland $2m (£1.5m) a year, and that’s just the bikes which are reported stolen. A 2015 report by the Netherlands’ Central Bureau of Statistics stated that the 630,000 thefts reported to police constituted only about 30% of the total that went missing.
By Roger Rudick, Streets Blog
“This fire engine is narrower, not as long, and has a better turning radius,” said San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White. “It’s a beautiful piece of equipment.”
Rivera may have been referring to tensions between SFMTA and the fire department over building parking-protected bike lanes on Upper Market Street and in the Tenderloin. The department, he said, is also looking to buy more versatile aerial ladder trucks to accommodate parking-protected bike lanes and other street safety improvements. “We’re working on a new spec for an aerial ladder truck … a redesigned outrigger system will go from sixteen feet to fourteen feet.”
“Safety is a value and a priority the SFBC and the SFFD share,” said the Bicycle Coalition’s Brian Wiedenmeier, who also spoke at the event. He added that he hopes the truck will help the city “build the safe streets we need.”
... It’s the latest in a series of so-called “zombie walking” laws intended to crack down on the alleged scourge of “distracted walking.”
In any legislation intended to alter behaviour, three questions should be asked. First and foremost: is the issue actually a problem? Second, will the proposed measures actually work to address the issue? Finally, would the measures have any other consequences that should be weighed against the assumed benefits?
So, is distracted walking a pressing issue? Anecdotally, many drivers will tell you it is. But what do the numbers show? We’ve seen a steady rise in distracted driving collisions as mobile phones become more prevalent, so we might expect a similar trend with walking. We’ve plotted both over the last two decades in Ontario:
How did more than 30,000 annual motor vehicle deaths become something that most Americans accept as normal? A new paper by Boston University professor Itai Vardi tries to answer that question.
His work is in a similar vein to University of Virginia professor Peter Norton, whose book Fighting Traffic recounts how the forces of “motordom” reshaped American streets by changing how people thought about cars in the city. Like Norton, Vardi has identified key conceptual frameworks that eventually led people to adopt the “matter-of-fact” tone we use to discuss today’s staggering rate of traffic deaths.
Vardi’s research encompasses historical accounts from media outlets, auto and insurance industry publications, activist groups, and, eventually, federal safety agencies. Here are three big factors that, according to Vardi, shaped the modern American view of traffic violence.
1. Thinking of traffic deaths in terms of fatalities per mile driven
[B' Spokes: If it interesting that MDOT chooses to advertise Maryland's fatality rate per miles driven which is near average but not our fatality rate per capita, which is rather high. But as the article points out it does seem the main point is to give a smaller number so lots of deaths does not seem so bad.]
2. “Saving Lives”
Vardi calls “saving lives” — which is actually part of NHTSA’s motto — “a rhetorical device to meet institutional goals.”
Forecasting future deaths, Vardi writes, also sidesteps the tricky question of what is an acceptable number of deaths.
3. Seatbelts and Drunk Driving
Finally, once highway safety was placed in the hands of “dispassionate” federal agencies, they framed the problem as one of individual mistakes or mechanical failures, rather than systemic flaws. This paradigm was, ironically, advanced by the Ralph Nader-led reforms of the 1960s aimed at car manufacturers, Vardi says.
For example, the top chart, published in 1933 by the Travelers Insurance Company, omits structural contributions to the high rate of traffic deaths — such as street design and poor non-automotive travel options.
To keep our cyclists safe, it may be time to adopt the approach of many European nations by introducing legislation that, in civil cases, presumes that car drivers caused a collision unless there is evidence to the contrary.
Shifting the burden of proof to drivers – who must prove they didn’t cause a crash – has been highly successful in other nations, along with other measures, in keeping cyclists safer and reducing accidents.
Cars generally cause collisions
These results are similar to a Monash University study in which researchers examined camera footage of similar incidents. They found that drivers were responsible for the actions preceding the incident in 87% of cases.
[B' Spokes: My favorite points. If the goal is to prevent the most head injuries then car drivers need to wear a helmet. And if cyclists should wear a helmet then pedestrians even more so. Complete with a chart.]
Licensed transportation engineers are supposed to abide by an ethical code of conduct that places the highest priority on public safety. But if you look outside at the closest street, you’ll probably see the result of engineering decisions that are antithetical to protecting people’s lives.
America has built out a transportation system that places people at much greater risk of death and serious injury than in peer countries around the world. In the last two years, the annual death toll has only escalated. The most vulnerable road users — people getting around without a car — account for a disproportionate share of the carnage.
We built a car culture, we built this myth that all the highways are paid by the users and we can’t use that money for anything else. The Highway Trust Fund — that’s a problem. I think in the 1950s when we didn’t have a highway system, I could see the logic. But it’s not the 1950s any more and we still have 1950s arguments and strategies.
We’re one of the only countries that has dedicated highway spending. In other countries, it’s just general funds, and you have public conversations about how that money is spent.
What I hear over and over [from other engineers] is we have no money to fix this. We don’t have money to maintain traffic signals, we don’t have money to build sidewalks. It’s a ridiculous statement on its face because we have billions of dollars but we just don’t spend it on those things.
[B' Spokes: I'll note we do NOT have a system for getting cheap or economical things built, our system is only for the most expensive of the expensive.]
After I arrived at my destination and the adrenaline cooled, a thought I’ve had for the last few months, came bubbling up to the top:
The vast difference in driver education and biking/pedestrian education is what causes this rift between modes.
And the sad reality of it all is that you’re not likely to care about another mode (especially if you don’t use it yourself), until someone you know is injured or worse.
So What Can We Do?
A lot of things, actually.
1. Equal Education
2. Change Safety Messaging
[B' Spokes: MD's Street Smart ad campaign is an example of what NOT to do.]
3. On-Demand Education for On-Demand Services
[B' Spokes: Profesional drivers (for Uber to name one) need more professional training than your run of the mill driver who does limited routes for a limited time.]
For cars, it seems the media has been pushing "it was just an accident" over "it was a crash and somebody did something wrong." No teachable moment for drivers, ever. And it seems they launched the next phase "the driver of the car seems to be little more than a witness" with the implied the driver is not at fault for the outcome. Read the article on Treehugger: