Road to Zero Safety Priority Statement
Vulnerable Road Users
Proposed Position: Transportation policy supports safe accommodation of all road users.
Potential Lives Saved: about 11,000 vulnerable road users (VRU) fatalities per year among people walking, bicycling, and using motorcycles.
To view the full Vulnerable Road Users Priority Statement, click here.
Vulnerable road user fatalities have been increasing in the U.S. at an alarming rate outpacing those of vehicle occupants. Since 2009 pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities have risen 40%. In 2015, there were 5,376 pedestrian fatalities, a 9.5% increase from 2014, accounting for 15% of all traffic fatalities. Motorcyclist fatalities exhibit a similar trend, with 4,976 motorcyclist fatalities in 2015, an 8% increase from 2014. Bicyclist fatalities, while they make up a smaller proportion of all traffic fatalities, exhibit these increases as well with 818 bicyclist fatalities in 2015, an 11% increase from 2014. Most fatal pedestrian and bicyclist crashes occur on major urban/suburban streets (arterials and collectors), a relatively small part of the US traffic system as a whole. While these trends are found across urban, suburban, and rural conditions, the relative safety of the most urban conditions and the relatively higher risk presented by late-20th-century road development indicates that the key to reversing this trend will be to make urban and suburban roads more like traditional streets, with quality sidewalks, very frequent opportunities to cross streets, and dedicated bike infrastructure. Several major cities have made significant progress in reducing pedestrian risk in particular: cities that stand out include Seattle, New York, and San Francisco, all of which were already among the safest cities in the U.S.
If the U.S. is able to eliminate crashes between vehicles and VRUs, over 11,000 lives could be saved each year. The VRU safety problem is multifaceted, but focusing on a safe systems approach as outlined in the Road to Zero coalition report provides the opportunity to reduce conflicts and the risk of a crash and reduce the energy transferred in a crash. Eliminating VRU fatalities and serious injuries will require a variety of strategies moving forward. Strategies that can be deployed in urban and suburban areas, and especially on and near major urban/suburban streets, are likely to most effective since these are areas of high conflict between drivers and people outside vehicles. Reducing motor vehicle speed in urban and suburban areas has been proven effective at both reducing the number and severity of vehicle-VRU crashes; if a car traveling at 40 mph strikes a pedestrian, the fatality rate for the pedestrian is 50%, but if that same collision occurs at 25 mph, the pedestrian fatality rate decreases drastically to 10%. More universally, the use of helmets for motorcyclists and cyclists of all ages has the potential to reduce injury severity in the event of a collision. For motorcyclists and cyclists, the risk of head injury in the event of a crash decreases by 69% and 60%, respectively, with helmet use. Expansion of dedicated walking and bicycling infrastructure, as well as comprehensive design and management of roadways to align speeds with survivability, are priorities in order to reduce VRU fatalities and serious injuries.
VRU is a term applied to those most at risk in traffic; mainly those unprotected by an outside shield, or vehicle body, and associated safety systems, such as airbags and seatbelts. In the U.S. and abroad, VRUs are predominantly pedestrians, motorcyclists, and pedalcyclists (bicyclists). Although exposure data for VRUs in the U.S. is lacking, the rapid observed increase in overall proportion of traffic fatalities they make up reflects potentially increased risk per user as well as increased risk per resident. Implementation of aggressive and innovative policies and solutions to protect VRUs are needed on the road to zero traffic fatalities.
Supporters of Road to Zero Coalition Priority Statement on Vulnerable Road Users:
- AAA, aaa.org
- Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, saferoads.org
- American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, aamva.org
- American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, transportation.org
- FiA Foundation, fiafoundation.org
- Institute of Transportation Engineers, ite.org
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, iihs.org
- Intelligent Car Coalition, intelligentcarcoalition.org
- International Association of Chiefs of Police,theiacp.org
- Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, mema.org
- National Association of City Transportation Officials, nacto.org
- National Association of State Emergency Medical Service Officials, nasemso.org
- National League of Cities, nlc.org
- National Safety Council, nsc.org
- The Trucking Alliance, truckingalliance.org
- Vision Zero Network, visionzeronetwork.org
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