Road Safety Shouldn't Be Just About Safety for Drivers


Anna Maria Barry-Jester's article on FiveThirtyEight (Why The Rules Of The Road Aren't Enough To Prevent People From Dying) shows us plainly the tension between competing interests. In this context, we're talking about the high status of the automobile in American life - a status that might have a direct connection to the number of people killed every year in car wrecks - versus just that: the right of pedestrians and passengers and other drivers not to lose their lives because of negligent drivers.

Barry-Jester wraps her argument around two issues: the way roads are designed (which affects the speed at which drivers travel) and jaywalking.

Road Design

One, speed limits are set based on a probably outdated standard for road design that does not factor in today's travel on modern interstates and city roads, nor does it factor in sharing the road with pedestrians and cyclists. Engineers design roads with the knowledge that drivers will exceed the speed limit - they're designed to exceed minimum safety standards - which means that while many roads may be safer for driving in general, drivers are more comfortable exceeding the speed limit, which puts everyone else at risk.

"Think of a subdivision with wide, flat roads," Barry-Jester writes. "The speed limit may be 25 mph, but you feel utterly comfortable doing 40."


Two, there's jaywalking, which apparently wasn't against the law. It might not even have been an issue. Shortly after the birth of the automobile (or, more precisely, its widespread popularity and use among consumers), as Barry-Jester writes, "people thought we needed to keep roads safe from cars, not for cars." In order to increase sales (low speed limits did not help sales), the auto industry worked to change public perception by having "jaywalking" criminalized, which shifted the blame for accidents from autos to people in the streets.


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