Engineering for Speed and Road Safety in D.C.

An article that appeared in USA Today last week describes an interesting metric for measuring road safety – traffic fatalities per 100,000 population and per 100 million miles driven. Using this metric, big cities come out on top. DC takes the #1 spot.

Now, I don’t think this necessarily describes a city’s road “safety”. Rather, it explains the probability of being fatally injured in a traffic incident. These are two different concepts, although they are likely correlated in a positive way.

This is additional evidence that what really matters when it comes to the severity of traffic injuries is the speed at which traffic moves. Slow traffic reduces the likelihood of death, but it also means spending more time in traffic (theoretically). Unfortunately, for the past half-century, we’ve favored infrastructure that allows vehicles to move fast, and the result has been roads that aren’t particularly safe for anyone, pedestrians and motorists alike.

There’s certainly value to being able to travel at high speeds. There’s also significant disadvantages. Cities just aren’t meant to be places where cars blast through at high speeds. Unfortunately, that’s still what many have become.