As cities grow, the pressure on roads and its many users grows with it. According to the UN, by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities so we need to be on top of this issue. There is often tension between the needs of cars, cyclists, and pedestrians – with animosity developing between these groups as roads get increasingly congested. Our ever more digitally interconnected world means that distracted driving is on the rise too. In order for modern cities to work well, it’s important that people and their human needs remain at the center of how cities operate in order to ensure harmonious coexistence.

Road accidents remain a major problem

Having risen for two years in a row, traffic deaths in the US fell by about 1% in 2017, according to a new report by the National Safety Council. While this appears positive news, it’s actually a smaller than expected decline given improvements in auto safety technologies such as automatic emergency brakes and more widespread use of seat belts. It goes without saying that every death on the roads is a horrific and potentially preventable tragedy often resulting in serious life-changing injuries which require lifetime care. The ripple of suffering extends from the accident victim to his or her family and friends.

No one goes wants to cause an accident, but they happen nonetheless – triggered by things such as loss of driver focus, incorrect judgement and perception of risks, distracted driving and excess speed. Cyclists must do all they can to stay safe; they must ensure they can see and be seen by wearing reflective clothing and ensuring bikes have lights. Pedestrians must keep their wits about them – especially if they have headphones in while they are walking so might not hear approaching traffic.

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Distracted driving is on the rise

Distracted driving is driving while using your cell phone, eating or drinking, fiddling with the GPS or stereo or anything else that distracts you from focusing on the road. Unfortunately, distracted driving is on the increase and poses a huge danger to fellow motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. Drivers must remain vigilant to ensure they are alert and focused at the wheel. In some states, there are moves afoot to strengthen distracted driving laws so that there are even tougher penalties for anyone found to be driving under the influence of an electronic device.

What can be done to improve things?

A multi-pronged approach is needed to achieve better road safety. This includes encouraging changes in behaviour (particularly around distracted driving), engineering interventions, better city infrastructure planning and vehicle design changes. However, clearly primary responsibility lies with auto drivers as they present the greatest risks to the most vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists).

All sorts of specific measures can be put in place to make urban roads safer.  More bike lanes, installing speed cameras near schools, and making the city environment more pleasant for pedestrians are all helpful. Introducing lower speed limits in certain areas and considering traffic calming measures such as sleeping policemen are good ideas too. More greenery in urban areas not only leads to lower levels of pollution but also encourages folk to walk more. Improving public transport is another way of tempting people out of their cars.

Ultimately everyone wants the same thing – to prevent death and injury on our roads and to improve the experience of walking and cycling in order to encourage more people to ditch the car. Roads need to be shared between all users in a mutually respectful way if our growing cities are to have a safe and positive future.

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