Shortly after the coronavirus hit, 2020 went from being one of the better years for traffic safety nationally to being one of the deadliest. This trend has puzzled transportation experts because many drivers reduced daily trips in the beginning of the pandemic to remain closer to home. Typically, traffic-related crashes drop when vehicles travel fewer miles.
The initial 2020 data suggests this dangerous trend only is worsening for Illinois and elsewhere in the country. Well before COVID-19, northeastern Illinois was seeing alarming traffic safety trends. To help our region address these troubling trends, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has started work on a Regional Traffic Safety Action Agenda with our communities and partners.
The five-year average of traffic fatalities on the region’s roads has trended upward, increasing from an average of 401 fatalities in 2014 to 471 fatalities in 2019, according to a CMAP analysis. Neither the region nor the state has met the federally mandated targets of reducing fatalities and injuries. These safety performance targets are set each year by CMAP in coordination with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
Transportation experts also have pointed to an increase in speeding, particularly with drivers going more than 15 mph over the speed limit, as one reason for the recent rise in fatalities nationally. Regionally, the number of pedestrians and bicyclists represented among those seriously injured or killed on northeastern Illinois’ roadways also is increasing. Pedestrians and bicyclists have much lower survival rates in serious crashes, especially when drivers exceed speeds of 20 mph.
The Regional Traffic Safety Action Agenda will address speed management, pedestrian and bicycle safety, and other factors that make our roads and walkways safer for all travelers. While examining why travel is becoming more hazardous, CMAP will work with our partners to address safety issues in a way that adapts to evolving trends.
Traditionally, traffic safety has been sorted into “the 4 Es” — engineering, education (and behavior), enforcement, and emergency services — but demand is growing to recognize new facets. The region must consider equity, technology, climate change, and public health as we begin to wrestle with post-pandemic travel concerns and address how a mobility recovery should look.
The region’s long-range plan, ON TO 2050, includes goals to improve travel safety and promote inclusive growth. Local and regional stakeholders must consider data and performance-driven answers to address the complex interaction of infrastructure design, traffic operations, behavior, and policy that influence travel safety. A transportation system that works better for everyone in northeastern Illinois must address systemic disinvestment in infrastructure, as well as equitable enforcement of traffic safety laws.
Through our Regional Traffic Safety Action Agenda, CMAP plans to convene experts, conduct research and analysis, and develop data-driven policy and design solutions. We are hopeful these actions will help northeastern Illinois achieve these goals and drive down the number of fatalities and serious injuries.
Even with the best engineering and enforcement, we can't drive down fatalities on our roads without your help. We all can follow simple steps to reduce or remove distractions while we drive. If you need to use your cell phone to call, text, or navigate, pull over in a safe place or ask a passenger to assist. Drivers should avoid eating, drinking, grooming, or reading while behind the wheel. Safe driving requires focus that allows for more time to react, so keep a safe distance from other vehicles and follow the posted speed limit.
Improving traffic safety is our collective responsibility and has the greatest chance of success through regional coordination. CMAP is committed to working with our partners to make meaningful changes that improve traffic safety for all travelers, regardless of age, ability, income, race, gender, or travel mode.
 According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the fatality rate relative to the number of miles driven jumped to the highest in over a decade, despite a significant drop in traffic volumes during the second quarter of 2020.