High Quality Public Transportation Can Provide Huge Traffic Safety Benefits

Public transportation increases safety. Transit travel has a tenth of the traffic fatality rate as automobile travel, and transit-oriented communities have about a fifth the per capita traffic casualty rate as in automobile-oriented communities.

3 minute read

September 8, 2016, 1:00 PM PDT

By Todd Litman


A new study released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) shows that a person can reduce his or her chance of being in an accident by more than 90 percent simply by taking public transit as opposed to commuting by car. This means traveling by public transportation is ten times safer per mile than traveling by auto.
 
The study, The Hidden Traffic Safety Solution: Public Transportation, reveals that transit-oriented communities have about a fifth the per capita traffic casualty rate (fatalities and injuries) as automobile-oriented communities. This means public transit cuts a community’s crash risk in half even for those who do not use public transit. Public transportation communities spur compact development which reduces auto miles traveled and produces safer speeds. 
 
“It is time we employ public transit as a traffic safety tool because it can dramatically reduce the crash risk for individuals as well as a community,” said APTA Acting CEO and President Richard White.  “While no mode of travel is risk free, the safety of public transit is striking when observing the number of fatalities that are a result of auto crashes.”
 
According to recent data released by the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 35,092 fatalities as a result of auto accidents in 2015. That is an increase of 7.2 percent from 2014, the largest since 1966. While APTA officials note that even one death is one too many, the small number of fatalities related to public transit travel pale in comparisons to the tens of thousands of lives lost on our roadways every year.    
 
The study shows that auto deaths and injury rates tend to decline significantly in a community as public transit ridership increases. Cities that average more than 50 annual transit trips per capita have about half the average traffic fatality rates as cities where residents average fewer than 20 annual trips. Since Americans average about 1,350 annual trips on all modes, this increase from less than 20 to more than 50 annual transit trips represents a small increase in transit mode share, from about 1.5 percent up to about 4 percent. That equates to an increase in transit mode share of less than 3 trips a month per person.  

When paired with traditional roadway traffic safety strategies, public transit can be very valuable in addressing high-risk and vulnerable driver groups, according to the study. Efforts to reduce higher risk driving, such as graduated licenses for teens, senior driving testing, and impaired and distracted driving campaigns, become more effective if implemented in conjunction with public transit improvements. For instance, urban teens take five times as many public transit trips and drive half as much and have about half the per capita auto death rate. As a result, both youth and total traffic fatality rates decline with increased public transit travel.
 
Youth and Total Traffic Fatality Rates
 
“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,” said White.  “The community-wide crash reductions, as a result from decreasing auto travel and safer speeds, multiply as areas become stronger transit oriented communities.”
 
The study was prepared for APTA by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, based on analysis of public transit, traffic safety and public health data. A fact sheet on the study can be found here and quotes by public transit, traffic safety, and public health leaders can be found here

Thursday, September 8, 2016 in American Public Transportation Association

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