Perhaps the most fundamental duty of any transportation provider is to protect the safety of those in the public right of way. Traffic deaths are preventable. NHTSA identified driver behavior as a factor in 94 percent of crashes nationally, and in the Chicago region, it is the most often-cited primary cause of fatal and serious injury crashes. The region should embrace a full range of strategies to eliminate all traffic related fatalities by 2050. Strategies that improve safety can also reduce congestion and improve the reliability of the transportation network.
After declining for several decades, traffic fatality rates in the region began creeping upward in 2010 and spiked in 2016. This increase is likely due to a combination of factors, including increased commuting due to a sustained economic recovery, as well as increased use of devices while driving. New vehicle safety technologies -- including crash avoidance, lane keeping, and potentially even fully connected and automated vehicles -- can have a substantive impact on roadway safety, even at relatively low fleet penetrations of these technologies. But the recent uptick in fatalities demonstrates the need to continue investing in other strategies under the control of local communities, including leveraging technology to improve incident detection and management.
The most effective safety strategy for reducing fatalities is changing roadway design to reduce speeding and protect pedestrians and cyclists, who are the most vulnerable users of the transportation network. Higher speeds increase the likelihood of serious injuries or deaths, especially in the case of pedestrian and bicycle crashes. Data suggests that bicycle and pedestrian serious crash rates are increasing faster than those for vehicle occupants. National and statewide analyses also indicate that areas with higher concentrations of people of color, low income, and senior populations have higher serious and fatal crash rates than other areas. According to the National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America, blacks in Illinois constitute 14.2 percent of the population and 24.1 percent of pedestrian deaths. Communities with safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities that connect residents to desired destinations provide residents with additional options to meet their daily needs. Active modes of transportation represent a growing share of trips to work in the city of Chicago, but there has been a slight decline in suburban areas. Unfortunately, data is not available on other kinds of trips, which often are of shorter distance and more conducive for active transportation.
[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show impact of speed on pedestrian fatalities.]
Enforcement plays a role in changing driver behavior and improving safety. However, enforcement programs need to be designed carefully and with significant community input, particularly in low income and minority communities. The disproportionately high rates of serious injuries and fatalities in these areas must be addressed, as must community concerns about racial profiling, use of force, and disproportionate impacts of traffic fines.
The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.