May 11, 2014

Road Safety

In 2013 there were 570 road deaths in the Netherlands. Of those, more than half - 320 - were non-vehicle deaths, that is, pedestrians, bicyclists, and riders of scootmobiles: electric mobility aids that share bike paths.

Small numbers. But then again, it's a small country with population less than 17 million. For a more realistic comparison, we divide the road death numbers by the population, and find 34 road fatalities per million, about half the European average.

For comparison, in 2010 there were 32,885 road deaths in the US, or 107 per million, the overwhelming majority were drivers or passengers of vehicles. That seems a lot more until you remember that Dutch people don't drive all that much or that far. Very, very few have the supercommutes that are not uncommon in the US. I mean, in most places in the Netherlands, driving three hours would land you outside the country and in some places, two countries over.

Dividing by miles travelled, the number of road fatalities in the US in 2010 was 1.11 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, or 11.1 deaths per billion miles. That's to be compared to 3.8 deaths per billion kilometers travelled, or 6.1 fatalities per billion miles travelled in Holland. Leaving out the bikes and pedestrians, vehicular fatalities per vehicle mile is about four times higher in the US than in the Netherlands.

  US (2010) NL (2013)
Road Fatalities 32,885 570
Non-vehicular Fatalities 5,549 320
Fatalities per million population 107 34
Non-vehicular Fatalities per million population 18 19
Fatalities per billion miles 11.1 6.1

The non-vehicular fatalities per million population is about the same in both countries: 18 and 19, respectively. However, these numbers are deceptive, because so many more trips in the Netherlands are made by bike and on foot. My guess is that the number of fatalities per bicycle trip or per bicycle mile is far lower in the Netherlands than in the US. I don't have to add that those fatalities are caused by vehicles: that's just the physics of car-bike collisions.

The Dutch Office for Traffic Safety (yes, there is such a thing) takes last year's statistics as a spur to make roads even safer, by implementing more separate bicycle paths, making traffic signs and rules more explicitly clear, and planning more "forgiving" road architecture, e.g. by removing obstacles by the side of the road or the medians to minimise collisions in the event that a car strays off the car lanes. Basically the same approach as in Sweden, which has the lowest number of traffic fatalities in Europe.

These measures save money and lives: back in the 1960s and 1970s, when Dutch roads were more like American roads are now, traffic deaths exceeded 3000 per year, and a large fraction of that number were children under 14 who were struck by cars. So it's well worth fighting for bicycle paths, physically separated from car lanes.

One more item: the number of fatalities among riders of public transport in Holland last year? One.



You may also like:
1. How the Dutch got their Bicycle Paths
2. Ten Ways to Calm Car Traffic
3. The Netherlands: Bike-Friendly By Law


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