U.S. GAO released major, comprehensive study on bicycle and pedestrian injuries and fatalities | U.S. Government Accountability Office

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Walking and biking are becoming increasingly popular modes of transportation: nearly a million more people reported walking or biking to work in 2013 than in 2005. While total traffic fatalities declined from 2004 through 2013 (the most recent year for which data are available), this was not matched by a similar decline in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. GAO was asked to review pedestrian and cyclist safety data and challenges in addressing this issue. This report examines: (1) trends in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and injuries from 2004 through 2013 and characteristics of these fatalities and injuries; (2) safety initiatives selected states and cities have implemented and their views on challenges in addressing this issue; and (3) actions taken by DOT to help improve safety. . . .

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has implemented and is planning to take further actions to help improve pedestrian and cyclist safety. For example, the Mayors' Challenge--part of DOT's Safer People, Safer Streets initiative--encourages officials to prioritize pedestrian and cyclist safety. On data collection, DOT is leading a pilot project on trip-counting technologies and updating guidance for states on data to include in crash reports. On engineering efforts, DOT issued a memorandum supporting flexibility in the design of pedestrian and cyclist facilities, as well as guidance to help reduce motorist speed. DOT oversees 13 funding programs that can award funds--$676.1 million in 2013--to be used toward pedestrian and cyclist safety. Given the increase in walking and cycling activity and the percentage of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and injuries, it will be important that efforts such as these continue. . . .

Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and injuries represent a growing percentage of all traffic fatalities and injuries. For example, pedestrian fatalities comprised 10.9 percent of all traffic deaths nationwide in 2004, but 14.5 percent in 2013. Cyclists represented 1.7 percent of all United States traffic deaths in 2004, but 2.3 percent in 2013. Estimates of pedestrian and cyclist injuries also grew during this same time frame. In 2013, most traffic crashes that resulted in a pedestrian's or cyclist's death involved men, occurred in urban areas, happened in clear weather conditions, and most frequently took place between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Various factors--working separately or in combination--may have contributed to these fatalities and injuries, including increased walking and cycling trips; alcohol use; distracted road users; or road design practices.

Officials from states and cities in GAO's review reported that they have implemented a number of efforts, but face challenges in addressing pedestrian and cyclist safety.

MoBikeFed comment: This major report is part of an ongoing initiative by the federal government to improve bicycling and walking across the U.S. and decrease injuries and deaths.

As a nation, we need to pay more attention to bicycle and pedestrian injuries and fatalities, and do far more to prevent them. Many--probably the vast majority--are indeed preventable. We have long called for all levels of government to take concerted action on this important issue, and we applaud the GAO for doing the research and issuing this report.

It would be unfortunate, however, if the report is seen as verifying that bicycling and walking are becoming more dangerous over time.

Because this is not true: In fact, all indications is that as bicycling and walking are becoming more popular and common across the U.S., the **rate** of injury and fatality is going down, slowly but surely.

That means that each individual who chooses to walk or bicycle is encountering a safer environment and a lower chance of injury.

But--because so many more people are choosing to walk and bicycle regularly, we are seeing a slight increase in the total of injuries across the nation as a whole.

We've seen this report already spun in the media as "Bad New for Bike/Ped". In reality, the report is very good news: The primary reason injuries are increasing is because interest in bicycling and walking is growing by leaps and bounds--whereas the number of motor vehicle miles driven over the past decade has flatlined.

And it's good news because the report itself indicates that the federal government is finally taking this issue seriously--and perhaps that means they will start to do far more about it, like supporting nationwide Vision Zero efforts that have been so dramatically effective in other countries similar to ours across the world.