Archive for December 5th, 2008

Risk Roundup

There were three tidbits that caught my eye in the IIHS’ latest Status Report.

In a piece about car-deer crashes:

“Most of the crash deaths occurred after a motor vehicle had struck an animal and then run off the road or a motorcyclist had fallen off a bike. Many of these deaths wouldn’t have occurred with appropriate protection. The study found that 60 percent of the people who were killed while riding in vehicles weren’t using safety belts, and 65 percent of those killed on motorcycles weren’t wearing helmets.”

In a piece about new school bus safety initiatives:

“During the past 8 years, an average of 148 people have died each year in crashes involving school buses. Only 6 of the people who died were passengers on the buses, and 5 were bus drivers. Of the remaining deaths, 106 were occupants of vehicles that collided with school buses, 26 were pedestrians, and 4 were bicyclists (1 death was unknown).”

And in a piece about motorcycle fatalities:

“Motorcyclist deaths have more than doubled since 1997, reaching a record 12 percent of the 41,059 motor vehicle crash deaths in 2007. More motorcyclists died in crashes during 2007 than in any year since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting data in 1975 in what’s now the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). In contrast, fewer passenger vehicle occupants (28,896) died in crashes in 2007 than in any year since FARS began. The motor vehicle death toll in 2007 was the lowest in 13 years.The rise in motorcyclist deaths continues to be pronounced among riders 40 and older (see Status Report, Nov. 21, 2006; on the web at During 2007, 49 percent of motorcyclists killed were 40 and older, up from 40 percent in 2000 and 14 percent in 1990.”

Posted on Friday, December 5th, 2008 at 10:22 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Spare the Tree, Cut Down the Litigation

A reader recently alerted me to yet another “trees and traffic” saga, this time in Sag Harbor, NY. Briefly, a 100-year-old black oak, beloved by neighborhood residents, was cut down after being struck by drivers in two separate incidents (one involving a rollover).

Now, it turns out the tree’s core had rotted, but what’s important here is that before this was even known, the ax was coming — because the tree, which had lasted virtually the entire history of automobile-dom, was viewed as a traffic hazard. Being generally of the mind that traffic is the hazard, I always view these claims with suspicion. This was a street marked for 25 mph. Assuming you were driving the proper speed and paying attention, how do you a.) strike something as large and obvious as a tree and b.) roll over your vehicle? (Any crash reconstructionists reading? I beg for elucidation). Trying to eliminate every potential physical hazard from the landscape to cater to some vision of crash-free driving forgets that the greatest source of risk comes from the driver himself.

Which is not to say nothing should have or could have been done; town officials claimed that a “bulb-out” or some other measure meant to wrap the road around the tree would cause the road to be too “narrow.” Too narrow according to some blanket set of prescriptions that take no heed of things like local character — and for what it’s worth, I’ve yet to see a road in the U.S. that could be described as “too narrow.” Narrow roads, moreover, are good for neighborhoods. The sad truth is the town was, perhaps rightly, more worried about litigation. And so yet another distinctive bit of the landscape was meant to be sacrificed to ensure the smooth flow of traffic, with greater safety — unless, that is, another driver weaves across the road into your path. Do you then eliminate the other lane of traffic?

The Sag Harbor Express had this to say:

“What unnerves us about this situation specifically is there appears to be a willingness on the village’s behalf to remove this tree not because it is dying, but because it appears to be a hazard due to its location in the roadway. We understand it is the village’s responsibility to protect its residents from facing untold amounts of liability as well as hazardous conditions, we are not convinced every avenue has been explored in this scenario.

We encourage the village to look at ways to keep this oak, if it is in fact a viable tree, through planning or engineering as is often done in communities committed to historic street trees that often, in their quirky way, stick out into roadways that were designed around them in the first place.

In a time where we are seeking to protect the character of our community with every tool we have, we would like to see the same initiative used on behalf of village officials in this case.

We do live in a litigious society, as Sag Harbor officials well know, dealing with a number of lawsuits over the last decade brought by people who did not have the foresight to watch their own step. We bemoan the fact that people across the country do not seem able to take responsibility for their own actions any more, rather placing the blame on someone else’s shoulders for their own errors. However, we would hate to see the village allow itself to be victimized by these very people and begin what we see as allowing that fear of litigation, in part, dictate what we deem worthy of protection.”

Posted on Friday, December 5th, 2008 at 9:00 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



December 2008

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