Management & Operations

Public transit users reduce crash risk by more than 90%, APTA study says

Posted on September 8, 2016

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% simply by taking public transit as opposed to commuting by car, meaning traveling by public transportation is 10 times safer per mile than traveling by auto.

In the study, “The Hidden Traffic Safety Solution: Public Transportation,” authors reveal that transit-oriented communities are five times safer because they have about one-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.

To view the study, click here.

Public transportation communities spur compact development which reduces auto miles traveled and produces safer speeds. The study was prepared by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute for APTA.

"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% 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 authors of “The Hidden Traffic Safety Solution” emphasize that auto deaths and injury rates tend to decline 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% up to about 4%. That equates to an increase in transit mode share of less than three trips a month per person.

"We must address expanding public transit with urgency and ensure the reliability and safety of these systems," said White. "Nationwide, there is an $86 billion backlog of state of good repair needs for the nation's public transit systems. Addressing this backlog is directly tied to maintaining the safest public transit network possible."

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.

"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."

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