Safety advocates eye public transportation as way to reduce traffic deaths

Safety advocates eye public transportation as way to reduce traffic deaths
© Getty Images

With the number of traffic fatalities on the rise in the U.S., safety advocates are looking to public transportation as a way to improve commuter safety.

ADVERTISEMENT

A new study conducted by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found that the chance of being in an accident decreases by more than 90 percent when taking public transit instead of driving.

That makes public transportation about 10 times safer per mile than commuting by car, the study found.

Communities where residents take an average of more than 50 annual transit trips per capita experience about half the number of traffic deaths as cities where commuters average fewer than 20 annual transit trips.

“No mode of traveling is risk free, but the small number of fatalities on public transportation does not compare to the tens of thousands we lose on roads and highways,” Richard White, acting president and chief executive officer of APTA, said during a press call Wednesday.

The Department of Transportation released statistics last month that showed 35,092 people were killed on U.S. roads in 2015, which is a 7.2 percent increase from the previous year. The number represents a break in a recent historical trend of fewer traffic deaths occurring per year.

“There are many reasons for this increase, but many are issues we’ve grappled with for many years,” said Bella Dinh-Zarr, vice chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “That’s why we need to be innovative.”

Public transit can be a particularly valuable tool for high-risk groups and more vulnerable populations, such as teens, seniors and impaired or distracted drivers. Dinh-Zarr points out that taking a bus or train allows commuters to multitask, sleep or avoid driving drunk.

“Public transportation can keep high risk drivers out of the drivers seat,” she said.

But White warned that there is currently an $86 billion backlog of “state of good repair needs” for the nation’s public transit systems, and urged communities to make greater investments in mass transit in an effort to provide a safer transportation network.

“This study makes clear that public transportation investment and supportive policies continue to save lives and reduce injuries for travelers and our most vulnerable road users as more shift from the automobile to public transit,” White said. 

“The community-wide crash reductions, as a result from decreasing auto travel and safer speeds, multiply as areas become stronger transit oriented communities.”