“Tragic Capacity”

Copying a quote from a paper that has undergone Optical Character Recognition (OCR), I see that “traffic capacity” was translated as “tragic capacity”. Sometimes the OCR knows best. So what happens when we systematically replace “traffic” with “tragic”? Typing “traffic” and each letter of the alphabet in turn, i.e. “traffic a”, “traffic b” into the well-known Google search engine (logged in as me), I get the following interesting phrases, where I substitute “tragic” for “traffic”, and they all still work.

  • tragic accidents
  • tragic alerts
  • tragic capacity
  • tragic control
  • tragic delays
  • tragic designs
  • tragic engineer
  • tragic fines
  • tragic forecast
  • tragic games
  • tragic google maps
  • tragic hazards
  • tragic incidents
  • tragic impact assessment
  • tragic jam
  • tragicking
  • tragic lights
  • tragic management
  • tragic news
  • tragic offences
  • tragic offenders
  • tragic police
  • tragic power
  • tragic queue
  • tragic report
  • tragic rules
  • tragic signs
  • tragic signal
  • tragic simulator
  • tragic to airport
  • tragic technologies
  • tragic update
  • tragic viewer
  • tragic violation
  • tragic volume
  • tragic watch
  • tragic yield
  • tragic zipper
  • tragic zone

Transport Accessibility  Manual Working Group

The Committee of the Transport Accessibility Manual will meet at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington DC in January:

final_cbsa_35620Transport Accessibility Manual Working Group (SAM20-0007 AP050)
Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020  8:00AM  9:45AM (US Eastern Standard Time)

We will be discussing the first (preliminary) draft of the document, which will be distributed to mailing list members before the meeting. Contact me if you would like to be added to the mailing list.

The Transit Transformation Australia Needs: Launch

The Transit Transformation Australia Needs: Launch

The true value of public transport is well understood by property investors. So why can’t some of this value be leveraged to fund the mass transit projects we badly need in the first place?

Join our panel at Sydney University at 4:30-6:30 pm on Wednesday 27th of November for a discussion on the future of public transport infrastructure funding. Please RSVP.

This event is in partnership with Hale Infra Strategy & The University of Sydney.

About the paper

A well planned public transport network brings a city closer to itself. It creates value for its citizens by reducing the distance between neighbourhoods. Businesses gain access to broader markets, and land value grows through quicker access to CBDs and major centres. People are brought closer to their friends and loved ones, are exposed to greater possibilities of work, and are able to reach their workplaces without the drama of traffic standstills or sardine-can train rides.

Visions for this modern, connected city where people are able to move easily over distance, and through densely populated areas are not far-fetched dreams, they are realities for many of our Asian neighbours and ‘competitor’ economies, and among many European cities.

However, it’s not merely the shortage of rail and other transport that has set us back from achieving modern cities for Australia. Our management of the value created by transit in Australia is lacking and our imagination is sadly limited.

Our paper outlines five key value capture funding mechanisms currently used to build some of the most renowned mass transit networks around the world. We discuss the planning pipeline overhaul that would need to take place in Australia for us to catch up with best practice.

Our Panelists

Dr Chris Hale
Transforming Transit author Dr Chris Hale is a transport strategist and urban economist who has published widely on transport infrastructure issues. His research interests include; transport project procurement and finance, station design, transport analysis, and urban infrastructure in Asian mega-cities.

Joe Langley
Joe has over 40 years of experience in urban and regional planning, infrastructure planning and funding, and property development. Joe’s company, Harbinger Partners, specialises in developing strategies and programs that leverage and capture value as a funding method for major infrastructure projects. Joe is currently under contract with Sydney Metro as a subject matter expert in metro precinct funding.

Prof. David Levinson
Prof. David Levinson joined the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney in 2017.  He has authored or edited several books including Spontaneous Access, The End of Traffic and the Future of TransportThe Transportation Experience, and Planning for Place and Plexus.

Emily SimsEmily Sims
Emily Sims is Prosper’s own Director of Engagement as well as our spokesperson on everything urban development. She holds an undergraduate degree in international development and a Master’s in urban planning. Emily has a strong interest in rezoning and efficient land use, having completed research into rapid new developments such as Fisherman’s Bend.

Registration details here.

On Trackless Trams

Zhuzhou, Hunan, China has deployed a segment of `trackless trams’ (map – it runs on the north-south route in the center of the map in this Olympics district). The technology, explained in this video, is an articulated, rubber-tired on road, electric vehicle that carries passengers on a marked right-of-way adjacent to traffic. The interior has a layout typical of trams or LRT vehicles, and it has tramlike doors. The stops are at stations with protective gates aligned with platform doors like modern LRT and Metro systems so people are less likely to be on the track.  The vehicle, though billed as “autonomous” is in fact merely  “driver assist”, as the video plainly shows a driver and steering wheel and explains. The markings on the road are used to help the guidance system (and the driver) stay centered in the lane.


There is a lot of hype about such systems. It is being widely promoted by Prof Peter Newman out of Perth (Curtin University), who has long been influential in transport policy in Australia, and has had government positions. (You may remember him from Sustainability and Cities).

In Australia, `trackless trams’ keep getting suggested for various corridors, two in particular are”

  • From the City of Liverpool (Western Suburb) to the now under construction Western Sydney airport Links: (1) (2) (3) The Liverpool – airport corridor has been mooted for public transport, and BRT seems perfectly logical there, trackless tram loses the ability to feed the line from side streets.
  • Parramatta Road from the City of Sydney to Parramatta. This is a suburban strip/car sewer for much of its length, and could be so much more. With the construction of the tunneled motorway project (WestConnex), there have been promises made to rejuvenate the road and create an exclusive transit lane for its length (it exists in places but not continuously), but commitments are fluid. The route once had trams, and today has many many buses. Links: (1) (2) (3)


One broader issue of course is that it is a bit of vapourware. There is a Chinese line as noted above (so it is decades ahead of Hyperloop), but essentially no one here has ridden on it, and many people/professionals are naturally skeptical of performance and reliability and real costs.

Politicians however are especially vulnerable to the new and shiny (the TV series Utopia/Dreamland is a documentary), anything that gets them above the fold in the newspaper or on the local news at 6, so it attracts more attention than more mundane ideas like bus electrification and exclusive bus lanes and transit signal pre-emption, in short Rapid Bus or Bus Rapid Transit.

And there is a strong anti-labour thread in these discussions, so any opportunity to automate and get rid of drivers and of the risk of labor work actions is seen as attractive. That said, the technology isn’t actually automated yet. Not to say it won’t be in the indefinite future, but not for the initial deployment.

Trams in Sydney especially are seen as expensive, and the two of the most recent tram projects (Newcastle LRT, and the City and Southeast LRT in Sydney) have had huge cost blowouts (and were poorly scoped), so naturally there is searching for other modes.

Perhaps electric bus rapid transit needs a rebranding, but no one should be confused about what a `trackless tram’ actually is. It is an advanced, electric bus in an exclusive bus lane operating like gold standard bus rapid transit. There is nothing wrong with advanced buses. There is nothing wrong with bus lanes. There is nothing wrong with bus rapid transit. Cities should deploy more of these things, and if politicians need to use the silly phrase “trackless tram” or anything else to get this popularly accepted by a political class, media, and public with the attention of a gnat, there are worse indignities the profession suffers.

Transport in the Urban System | Engineers Australia, Newcastle

I will bring ‘flow’ to Newcastle on Wednesday for an Engineering Australia event: Transport in the Urban System. Registration required.

Transport in the Urban System
Transport in Towns – some factors of the Transport System and their interaction within the whole Urban System.

The panel of three eminent academics [David Levinson, John Nelson, Michelle Zeibots] will give an appreciation of how transport functions as part of a city’s complex system. It will assist the broad engineering community to guide decision makers by contributing to well-informed local strategic thinking and intellectual interchange.

Please Note time:  5.00pm for networking for 5.30pm start

16 / 10 / 2019 – 05:00 pm to 07:30 pm (AEST)


Registration Closes
16 / 10 / 2019 05:00 pm
Engineers Australia Newcastle
Suite 3 Tonella Commercial Centre
125 Bull Street
(entry via Dick Street)
Newcastle West – Webinar available,

Physical Location

  • EA Member Rate: $0.00 ($0.00 excl. GST)
  • Society Member Rate: $30.00 ($27.27 excl. GST)
  • Student Member Rate: $0.00 ($0.00 excl. GST)
  • Non-Member Rate: $30.00 ($27.27 excl. GST)


  • EA Member Rate: $0.00 ($0.00 excl. GST)
  • Society Member Rate: $30.00 ($27.27 excl. GST)
  • Student Member Rate: $0.00 ($0.00 excl. GST)
  • Non-Member Rate: $30.00 ($27.27 excl. GST)
Event Contact
  • Contact: Engineers Australia Member Services
  • Phone: 1300 653 113
  • Email: jpapanicolaou@engineersaustralia.org.au

Data show American commuting is changing, but probably not for the better | Quartz

Dan Kopf at Quartz wrote: Data show American commuting is changing, but probably not for the better. I got quoted:

The effects of suburbanization show up in the data in several ways, including the decrease in bus riders and the spike in subway and rail commuters. Buses are typically used for shorter commutes, while subways and trains are often better options for people who are farther from the city center. Transportation professor David Levinson told Quartz that the use of the bus may also be falling due to the strong economy. More people use cheaper forms of public transport during recessions, but are more likely to drive when they are feeling flush with cash. In addition, Levinson notes that a number of US cities have introduced light rail this decade that are intended to replace buses. This caused a spike in train use.


One other important change to commuting in the US is that fewer people are doing it. The share of people who reported working from home went up from 4.5% in 2010 to 5.6% in 2018; it was only 3.3% in 2000.


Related points:

  1.  2010 was in the recession, 2018 is nearer a peak. During recession, more people switch from car to public transit, walking, biking. As incomes become more reliable in expansion, people switch back to the car. (This applies to work and non-work trips, your table is work only, but work trips are less than 1/4 of all travel).
  2. There has been a cut back in bus service in recent years.
  3. Taxi’s increase is obviously related to the flood of discounted (venture capital subsidized) rides associated with Uber.
  4. There have been added LRT facilities (and some heavy rail) that replaced bus service.
    Wikipedia lists systems by year opened, but also by year last expanded. Many have been opened or expanded since 2010. Many of those riders previously took bus (some are new to transit entirely of course).

Travel Cost and Dropout from Secondary Schools in Nepal

Recently published


Fig. 3. Distribution of Travel Time of Children Enrolled versus Dropped out*. ∗ The plot is a kernel density estimate which has been generated through ggplot2 function in R Studio using bandwidth adjustment factor of 10.

The study relates the association between travel time to the lower secondary and secondary public schools of Nepal and the dropout grade before leaving secondary school. Using an ordered logit model we find that as the travel time to the school increases, students are more likely to dropout from the school system in earlier grades. The results from this study will be useful to policymakers, especially from developing countries, as it places transport in the context of education. 

On the State of Science

“Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” — (Wikipedia).

To be clear, science is a process, not a set of facts or findings. It produces facts and findings, and refutes them from time to time. Much of the scientific enterprise now occurs at research universities, which are strange, chimerical beasts charged with both advancing human knowledge and entertaining 18-22 year olds.

To be clear, I think science has been extraordinarily successful as an enterprise, moving from a fringe program pursued by a few mostly wealthy individuals with excess leisure to one with millions of practitioners, responsible for most of the world around us.

However, the enterprise is also far from perfect.  As with any social system, status games matter.

The first problem is Pseudo-Science vs Science. While science generally wins these battles, that it keeps fighting them is a drain on more productive activities. Carl Sagan spent a surprisingly large time in the original Cosmos series complaining about astrology. Stephen Jay Gould famously devoted much ink against creationism. They were famous, media-savvy scientists, not like most practitioners, who could proceed day-to-day conducting normal science. But they also captured attention fighting, since the media and the public like nothing better than conflict.  Today, the anti-vaxxers may get millions killed from preventable diseases, and simultaneously chill discussion of real risks associated with vaccines, as any risk is exaggerated and inflated. More attention is given to these ideas than they are worth.

Examples of trending pseudo-science:

  1. Biblical Literalism / Creationism / Intelligent Design / Young Earth
  2. Climate Deniers
  3. Anti-Vaxxers
  4. Astrology
  5. Flat Earth
  6. Alchemy

But like perpetual motion and phlogiston before them, wrong, refutable ideas are pushed to the fringe. As long as we hold fast to the process of conjectures and refutations, and ensure testable hypotheses are presented, science triumphs.

The second problem is Publish or Perish, and its reaction. Publication is essential to science, it is how knowledge is communicated. The US Promotion and Tenure (P&T) system requires academics to go up for tenure, usually after  6 years, at which point they get promoted or are relieved of duty. Other countries have less existential systems. Promotion at good schools requires evidence of journal publication, and sometimes requires that some number of these publications are in journals of a certain tier or have a certain impact factor (which is completely backward, and frankly embarrassing that the logic skills of those checking on impact factor is so poor). (Notably, it is rare that promotion committees check the actual citations of the works themselves or other measures of impact, the excuse given that the publications are too new to have garnered many citations).

While peer review predates journals, modern peer review is a relatively recent invention that acts as a random throttle on the release of knowledge.

As we learn from statistics there are Type I and Type II errors: False positives and false negatives. False positives are results that are published, but are wrong, meaningless, or trivial. False negatives are results that are rejected, but were not wrong, meaningless, or trivial. Peer review aims to reduce false positives, at the cost of false negatives.

Some evaluating agencies even complain that there is too much science being produced (they frame it as too many publications, but publications just document science). They are whining the knowledge is too hard to process, that authors salami-slice results to maximize the number of publications. But what is the right size of a result? The more words to convey the same information, the fewer the readers I suspect, all else equal.

There is bad science being produced, as the incentive is to produce publications, not science, and peer review is a highly random filter.

These problems include Lack of Reproducibility and Transparency and P-hacking, among others.  I have seen a few academics engage in Dual Publication (publishing the same paper, or essentially the same paper) in more than one outlet in parallel, and try to take credit for both. To be charitable, this is especially a risk with multiple authors who are not communicating well, or with conferences that publish, or semi-publish, proceedings. It is also done intentionally.

But there is also good science being produced, and authors spend too much time satisfying reviewers to jump through the peer review hoop to publish in “legitimate” journals so that their research will be accepted by the community of cited authors and itself accumulate citations. These hoops include reviewers and editors requiring additional citations and long introductions, literature reviews, and policy discussions that are largely irrelevant to the knowledge actually produced. Transport Findings aims to remedy this problem of too much verbose bullshit contaminating science.

Good science rejected often winds up in desk drawers, and is needlessly replicated by those who don’t know the work was already done, since it was never published. Good science that is not in the excessively standardized form of a 6000-word paper is hard to publish.

man sitting on the chair while observing outside during daytime
A photograph, because articles with photos are more likely to be read, and take up more screen space on Twitter. Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

I think we worry too much about false positives and not enough about false negatives, Science is self-correcting, and a wrong result will eventually be discovered, and the paper either retracted or come-to-be-recognized as wrong. Academics with a reputation for many errors will eventually be discovered. Mistakes happen, and not all are due to evil intent.

Publish or perish is a function of the current state, and to its credit helps ensure academics overcome their fear of the imperfect and lack of performance for anything but externally imposed deadlines and ensures papers get out. Failing to make it through this system is not a comment on you personally, and there are many ex-academics leading perfectly productive lives.

Third, the Publications Crisis sees the cost of reading science (legally) getting higher and higher. Scientists are good at routing around problems, and most papers can be acquired conveniently from sci-hub for no charge (and it is easier to use than your local University library, what does that tell you?)

These for-profit, closed-access journals have their own incentives to jack their “impact factor” so that more authors will send their papers there, and more subscribers will read the journal at higher and higher prices. Journals play games like “online first” to garner citations before the date of publication to increase the impact factor.

These journals also engage in `Positive results bias’, being more likely to publish articles that have positive findings (A significantly affects B) instead of null findings (A and B are unrelated). While in a complex world, most things are unrelated, if someone hypothesized that they were, and we find they are not, that is still a valuable contribution to knowledge.

The science journalism community is complicity with this hype cycle, since ‘news’ requires everything to be framed as a breakthrough rather than normal science, as if (a) most ‘breakthroughs’ are real, and (b) progress comes through ‘breakthroughs’ rather than plodding. I’m all in favor of working smart rather than working hard, but actually collecting data and promulgating theory go hand in hand.  Most of us cannot be Newton, Darwin, or Einstein, and we cannot be continuously overthrowing Kuhnian paradigms. There is a bias toward Ravenclaw over Hufflepuff, but most work is Hufflepuff.

There are open access journals that fight this, like Transport Findings and Journal of Transport and Land Use, among others. Unfortunately, there are also fake and low-quality journals that are simply pay-to-play, taking advantage of naive and noob researchers, and those stuck in a Publish or Perish situation with weak oversight based simply on numerics rather than quality, which have become easier and easier to start in the age of the modern internet.  The community can sort this over time.

Fourth, the Academic Ponzi Scheme occurs because each academic at a top school is expected to produce Ph.D. students who themselves become academics at top schools, repeat. Many more PhDs are awarded than faculty positions exist. Most go to lower-ranked schools or industry, and lead happy, healthy lives (alternatively, maybe they retain anger and resentment forever, which is the impression I get from reading the Chronicle.) Some hang around and become adjuncts, working on temporary contracts, teaching more (and researching less), with a job that could disappear at any moment when the economics of the university program change.

Fifth, there is a lot of discussion of self-censorship due to Political Correctness. I don’t see it much in my own world, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Of course, everyone self-censors, one cannot, for instance, expect anyone to say bad things publicly about colleagues they have to work with in the future, or funding organizations that pay them now or are expected to in the future. But that is common sense.  Most of us with tenure or the equivalent have academic freedom to say what we want as long as we do so politely, without slandering or libeling people, etc. There are exceptions, the case of Paul Mees comes to mind, but that is more an issue of academic freedom than political correctness.

Finally, I want to discuss Problem Invention,  bringing distant dangers near. All the low-hanging fruit has been picked, so too much attention is paid to minor issues. I don’t believe it is my place to pass judgment on the importance of work as a reviewer or editor, history can judge. But I sure wish y’all would work on better problems. Much of transport research is about mathematical and statistical games with little practical application. Transport is only important because it is a practical problem.

The problems within science, unlike so many other sets of problems, are largely self-correcting.

21 Solutions to Road Deaths

So your civilization kills 1.35 million people per year in automobile-related crashes. This is a tragedy, but it is no “accident“. Road deaths are largely preventable, and the evidence is that some countries (the United States, Australia) have much higher rates of road death than others (Sweden). The strategies to reduce the carnage go under different names in different places, from Vision Zero to the Safe Systems Approach, but they are not really that distinct substantively.

Most crashes have multiple points of failure in the chain of causation. If only party A was paying more attention, it wouldn’t matter what party B was doing, and vice versa. If the road were designed differently, party A would have behaved differently.

Consider a vehicle-on-vehicle collision. There are at least six actors here: The driver, the other driver, the vehicle, the other vehicle, the road, the environment. Other vehicles (and their drivers) may also have a role to play, even if they are not directly involved in the crash.

The penalty for distraction or misjudgment should not be death. No one deserves to die for a momentary lapse of awareness. Driving is a hard skill, people are fallible, and in addition to the road deaths noted at the beginning of this post, there are hundreds of millions of severe crashes each year globally, many of which are injurious and life-changing, even if not life-ending.

The general approach is two-fold:

  • Prevent crashes.
  • Mitigate crash consequences: prevent death and reduce injury.

The good news is that the same things that prevent crashes often reduce the severity of crashes should they occur. Going slower gives drivers more time to react, but even if they fail to reach in time, (braking too late, or not at all), they still are less likely to be killed or injured, or kill or injure others, at a slow speed than a fast one.

The problem is that drivers often do not want to go slower, and the feeling is that the behaviour which is safer is also less efficient. This is true assuming no crash. Of course, being involved in a crash, or stuck in the congestion behind someone else’s is not efficient either.

The safety advocacy field has long used the 3 Es of Engineering, Enforcement, and Education to describe their strategies. This has been extended with other Es, including variously Emergency Services, Evaluation, Environment, Encouragement, and Everyone Else. Toole Design: has recently proposed a new set of 3Es: Equity, Ethics, Empathy. The Es are a useful mnemonic, but we need to dig deeper. This post includes 21 strategies that improve safety.  You might think of others. There is no one magic bullet for this complex problem, though some strategies are more effective than others depending on context.

Engineer for Safety

Design the system to be safer.

Foremost, this means design for slow speed. Wherever a pedestrian may come into conflict with a vehicle, the speed should be as low as possible, but start with 30 km/h (18 mph) as at that speed pedestrians are more likely to survive being hit by a car than die, while at higher speeds the reverse is true. If vehicles must go faster, the separation of pedestrians, bicyclists, and cars should be considered. There are numerous strategies to achieve low speeds on streets, including regulations (discussed below), enforcement of those regulations, and better, designing roads so that drivers only feel comfortable driving at low speeds.  There are numerous techniques to reduce the design speed of streets and roads, including traffic calming devices and shared space approaches.  Traffic calming aims to use street designs to reduce speed, by making it difficult or uncomfortable to travel faster. Solutions include narrowing the street, chicanes to alter direction of vehicles, and speed tables and wombats (raised pedestrian crossings, at intersections or midblock) to remind drivers they are in pedestrian areas. Shared spaces allow persons in and out of vehicles to use the same area and visually negotiate conflicts rather than requiring on an excess of signs, signals, and markings regulating behaviour. The Netherlands has probably done the most to improve the streetscape for the benefit of safety following the “stop the child murders” (Stop de kindermoord) campaign of the 1970s.

Stop the child murders. Dutch National Archive
Stop child murders. Dutch National Archive

Use of roundabouts rather than traffic signals takes up more space, and increases the distance pedestrians have to walk, but by lowering speed at the intersection and deflecting cars, generally results in an overall safer situation than a signal or stop-controlled intersection. In addition to being safer, lower speeds also make driving less advantageous compared to other modes, and reduces demand for cars, which likely improves safety as well.

But it also means that designs for high-speed roads should be safer through better geometric design. Geometric design is usually about the design of horizontal and vertical curves, and the visibility at those curves determines the appropriate speed (or the design speed determines the curvature), which depends on driver perception and reaction times.  But there are other aspects as well.  Civil Engineers are responsible for designing roads and the traffic controls (signs, signals, and markings) that govern them. As an undergraduate student at Georgia Tech, my Transportation Engineering Professor, Paul Wright, was very much concerned with traffic safety. One of the problems he identified was that cars ran off the road at high speed and hit fixed objects, like light poles, or trees, which killed the driver or passenger, while the pole or tree remained standing. So he advocated ensuring the side of state highways were clear of fixed objects within 30 feet (~8 m) of the road edge. Light poles and signs would be redesigned to be breakaway, instead of being designed to outlast a car crash. Trees would be cut down. Bridges would have protected guardrails so that cars would be deflected back into the stream of traffic rather than crashing into a concrete pillar (as bridge pillars should not be breakaway for obvious reasons).  This apparently reduced deaths, though was unfortunately also applied in urban areas, encouraging higher rates of speed. Other similar strategies include cables in the medians of highways to reduce cross-over crashes (which are far worse as the speed of impact of a head-on crash is so high).

Different types of roads require different treatments. Limited access motorways (freeways) are generally safer at high speeds than city streets, and when faster (e.g. with higher freeway speed limits, to a point), attract traffic away from city streets and rural roads, which reduces overall statewide fatalities, though increases them on the relevant freeways, and probably induces increased demand overall.

Design road surfaces to reduce slip and increase friction. Pavement engineers consider not only the strength of pavements, but their surface condition.

Maintain Roads to improve traffic safety as well. This includes the general road condition, as well as snow and ice clearance. Toshihiro Yokoo, Mihai Marasteanu, and I found that good pavement quality is associated with lower crash rates in several conditions:

  • Snow – for fatal crashes,
  • Asphalt over concrete and sags for injury and property damage crashes,
  • Wet roads for injury crashes, and
  • Crests, and spring load restrictions for property damage crashes.

It should also be noted that very bad pavement quality also performs as a type of traffic calming, as people are uncomfortable traveling at higher speeds on bumpy roads.

Educate, Enforce, and Regulate Drivers

Regulate driver behavior by adopting severe rules about drunk driving (drink driving, driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated) and rules about maximum hours to ensure drivers are as alert (sober) as possible when making decisions. In a sense much of this is pre-crime, we regulate this behavior even if the driver has not actually driven badly or caused a crash because they are in a state where they might at a moment’s notice. But unlike walking, driving is a privilege, not a right. Other rules include things like prohibiting the use of mobile phones while driving, as distracted driving, unlike distracted walking, is a real problem. Some rules are downright counterproductive, like assuming pedestrians should only cross at marked crosswalks. The US is terribly inconsistent about which crosswalks are marked, leading to confusion and danger.

Enforce the adopted rules and laws like the speed limit and other traffic laws that improve actual safety (that is, punish bad behavior). This is traditionally the responsibility of the police. Much of this can be automated with various types of `photocop‘ technologies, such as red-light running cameras and photo-radar speed enforcement. These generally improve safety. In contrast, ad hoc human-based enforcement often has racial bias, and has traditionally been used as a pretext to harass minorities. Still, if people believed there were serious consequences for violating road rules and killing or injuring other people with automobiles, they would probably be more careful.

Encourage and reinforce good behavior. While encouragement is not widely used, it is certainly possible to imagine earning points for good behavior, that might result in lower insurance premiums, or removing points from your driver’s license. However encouragement has its downsides:  imagine being pulled over by police, even if in the end they give you a citation of good behavior, the stress of the event, depending on your circumstances, especially if you had a record or points, may have taken several hours or days off your life)

Educate and License drivers, both new and continuing, on the state of the road rules, and their knowledge thereof. Driver education (and examination and licensure) is intended to produce better drivers. The US driver education system is not especially rigorous given the damage that can be caused, and there is no effective “continuing education” for drivers, requiring them to demonstrate continued improvement in driving skills, aside from occasional public service announcements and variable message signs. Practice improves skill, but experience creates relaxation and may induce over-confidence on the job (of driving). Licensure has been getting more rigorous in the US, and this has improved safety. Still, the only rigorous test are for the first time the license  is earned, and changes in road rules are never tested, much less memory of the existing road rules.


Equip vehicles with technologies that reduce injury to vehicle occupants in a crash, and equipment that reduces the likelihood of a crash in the first place.

Mechanical engineers have done better at the first of these, vehicle occupants are much less likely to die due to better-designed automobiles that now feature things like:

  • Seatbelts
  • Crash cages
  • Crumple zones
  • Shatterproof Glass
  • Airbags
  • Child safety seats (car seats)

Software and electrical engineers have helped develop systems such as

  • Rear cameras, for backing up,
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Automatic emergency braking systems
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Auto-pilot, Supercruise, other advanced driver assistance systems

which improve safety, the latter ones especially on highways.

However, the increase in SUVs increases the severity of crash consequences for those outside the vehicle (in other cars, or on foot or on bike) both due to the mass of the vehicle, and the height, which collides with the soft body of the pedestrian nearer the vital organs than a lower sedan.

Materials engineers and mechanical engineers are involved in the design of tires, which is an important element in safety.

Equip humans with safety gear. If we can redesign vehicles, can we also redesign our unprotected road users, pedestrians and bicyclists?  Safety promotors have essentially proposed this. Some equipment that helps pedestrians and bicyclists be seen is that which increases visibility, including bicycle lights and increased reflectivity of the bicycle or the high-visibility clothes worn by road users. Or worse, asking pedestrians to carry flags to cross the street. By increasing visibility, the argument goes, the driver will be able to react and apply the brakes sooner, and either stop, or at least be slower, at the time of impact. The empirical evidence for safety is non-existent either way on reflective gear, though one imagines it helps, as it improves visibility in tests.

Vehicle equipment designs that reduce the impact of vehicles on bikes and people on foot should also be considered. The increasing height and mass of SUVs (and their increasing number) has been credited with the fast-rising number of pedestrian deaths in the US in recent years. The height makes it harder for drivers to see people (especially children and others who don’t play basketball professionally) just in front of the vehicle. The height also means the collision will occur on the upper rather than lower half of the body, where people keep most of their vital organs.

Bicyclists are often asked or required to wear helmets in countries like Australia with a weak biking culture. Yet the safest countries for bicyclists, like the Netherlands, don’t require this. It is clear from the medical literature that if you are dropped on your head, a helmet helps. But that is not the whole story. The question is one of incidence, whether a helmet increases the likelihood of being dropped on your head, either because of more aggressive cars around helmeted, uniformed, and armored bicyclists or because of the false confidence that helmets provide bicyclists. By the same logic, vehicle passengers and drivers should wear helmets and goggles, which will reduce injury and death. We might want them wearing giant inflatable bags as well. This seems ridiculous, but we essentially ask this of bicyclists. The entire conception of bicycling as a race requiring special gear ensures we have othered (dehumanized) the bicyclist, which reduces driver empathy. Delbosc et al. have found that dehumanization is correlated with aggression.

Ergonomics, or Human Factors Engineering,  considers road user interaction with the vehicle and with the road environment. Out-of-vehicle, human factors engineers are responsible for standardising traffic signs, signals, and markings, and interfaces, which appear to be getting better, if too numerous. In-vehicle, human factors engineers interfaces like the dashboard, which appears to be getting worse, increasing the distractability of drivers.

Emergency Response

Emergency response saves lives if there is a crash, and this has been getting better, both in terms of reduced response time, due to almost instant notification of an incident from vehicle-based systems or from mobile phones, as well as faster dispatching of emergency response, as well as improvement in medical care technologies over the past century. Improvements in response time and medicine are responsible for about one-third of the reduction in fatality rates from crashes in the UK.


Fewer automobiles will result in fewer automobile-related deaths. No cars eliminate the risk entirely, but also is beyond the pale to consider, apparently.

Pedestrianisation, or reducing the number of roads where cars are permitted, naturally reduces car crashes on the pedestrianised sections. Similarly, better pedestrian networks and pedestrian priority will both increase pedestrian safety and reduce the number of drivers. A key example of this is the trip to and from school, which children used to do on their own

Improve public transport, walking, and bicycle networks, to reduce the number of people who feel the need to drive.

Change land use patterns to reduce driving. Reorganizing the location of activities so that origins and destinations are nearer means more trips can be by walking, biking, or public transport. Denser areas are generally safer on a per capita basis (that is the more people, the more collisions, but the rate of serious collisions per pedestrian or per vehicle drops), as there are safety-in-number effects, which we have corroborated for pedestrians and bicyclists. The relationships are complex.

Grid the street network. Marshall found that “Denser street networks with higher intersection counts per area are associated with fewer crashes across all severity levels.”

Economy is a factor, the better the economy, the more people driving, both to work and to non-work destinations. Our research has shown that as the gas prices rise (and one expects, as the economy deteriorates), the drivers who give up the road are typically worse than average, often younger, less responsible, and less able to hold down a job, while younger potential drivers defer licensure. It might be socially counter-productive to want high gas prices or a bad economy solely to reduce road deaths, and a bad economy may very well increase other deaths, though high gas prices may have additional beneficial effects from reduced pollution. Nevertheless, the correlation remains.

Emerging Technologies

Vehicle automation will certainly help in the long run, as computers are less likely to be vulnerable to the same imperfections that humans suffer when attempting to maintain concentration, and are programmable to behave in a more risk-averse way, as well as having faster reaction times and being more predictable and more likely to obey road rules. But we are at least two decades away from full automation, and many of the strategies here will help even with automated vehicles.


Like congestion and global warming, the road death toll can be significantly reduced, but there is little evidence that the United States, in particular, is collectively interested in solving it. While there are obviously advocates, they do not have the upper hand, otherwise deaths would not be rising in recent years off its 2014 lows.

Ezra Hauer argues convincingly that practice needs to engage better with research, and be more evidence-based. There are other strategies as well would result in safer systems that kill and injure fewer people each year.  Despite the high road toll, the issue seldom received the attention it deserves, overshadowed by more newsworthy types of death. This post also doesn’t cover the deaths due to air pollution, which is of a similar magnitude, and suggests another set of solutions.