Greater Greater Washington


Map shows the consequences of our automobile addiction

Leave it to the Brits to create an incredible tool for examining America's own crisis of traffic fatalities. Behold this somber map, made by ITO World, a UK-based transportation information firm. Each dot on the map is a traffic-related death. The entire eastern US is blanketed with them.

The purple dots represent vehicle occupantsnot necessarily driverswho were killed. It may look like a lot of purple, and it certainly is, but when you zoom in closer you see a lot of blue dots, for pedestrians, as well as an awful lot of yellow dots, for motorcyclists.

The green dots for bicyclists are fewer and farther between, but if you zoom into the cities, you'll find them. Each dot even lists the year of the crash and the victim's age and gender.

ITO World got their fatality data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It appears they've captured not just fatalities on highways but on local streets as well.

The World Health Organization reports 12.3 annual traffic deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in the United States. Compare that with 3.85 in Japan and 4.5 in Germany. If the U.S. achieved similar rates, more than 20,000 deaths would be prevented each year.

This map is a useful way of visualizing the terrible consequences of our auto-addicted culture. Beyond that, it can be an indispensable tool for community transportation advocates to show local officials where problem spots are and how their community compares to others.

Tanya Snyder is editor of Streetsblog Capitol Hill, which covers issues of national transportation policy. She previously covered Congress for Pacifica and public radio. She lives car-free in a transit-oriented and bike-friendly neighborhood of Washington, DC. 


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What the map won't show is who was at fault for the death, the driver or the pedistrian. The numbers are up because we drive more often, yes. BUT, it is not always one-sided as many pedestrian deaths are caused by the carelessness of the person jaywalking, or walking along car blind spots, or darting in and out of traffic, or falling off curbs onto oncoming traffic, ignoring Do Not Cross traffic lights, et al.
Now I am not so naive to say that cars do not cause the majority of deaths, nor our pedestrian polices are not at fault. But pedestrians have rules of the road to follow too, and many do not and it helps cost them their lives.

by Ray B on Nov 23, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

@Ray B

I think focusing on who is "at fault" misses the point. We've created a system in which people make frequent mistakes, and die and/or kill as a result.

We could build a different system that would reduce either the number of mistakes, the lethal consequences, or both.

I personally think that these deaths are too high a price to pay for ubiquitous auto transportation and right-of-way.

by Tim H on Nov 23, 2011 4:17 pm • linkreport

Your comparison of vehicle death rates is properly considered, because the geography and the road conditions in Germany, Japan, and the US are quite different.

Road fatalities per per 1 billion vehicle-km: US -- 8.5; Germany -- 7.2 (from wikipedia).

The disparity in the vehicle fatality rate is partly explained by the fact that the US is a far larger country, and people drive more.

by goldfish on Nov 23, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

Takeaway of the map, from a Coloradoan: Don't EVER drive east of the Mississippi!

The death locations form a basic road map of the Western United States, with the interstates appearing thicker than State or US highways. Supposedly, interstates are safer than two lane highways. Without counting all the deaths and doing a per mile figure, is it just more people travel along interstates?

If you look over Alaska and zoom in closely, people have even died in cars where there are no roads.

by Zmapper on Nov 23, 2011 8:51 pm • linkreport

So don't walk into the street in front of moving vehicles, simple as that. My mom taught me that when I was little, long before I learned I had the "right" to walk in front of a speeding car (or bus or bicycle).

Happy Thanksgiving, be careful out there.

by Roger Thornhill on Nov 23, 2011 11:38 pm • linkreport

So if it's just "simple as that" Roger, then don't speed in the street "in front of" pedestrians (or bus drivers, or cyclists, or other moving motorists). Why don't you also think it's just so elementary and simple not to speed?

by Critical Chris on Nov 24, 2011 2:32 am • linkreport

This is a deceptive map. There are two types of information, location and type of death.

To be useful as a chart, the deaths would have to be caused by location. At most, though, it reveals a correlation with geography--bikes in cities, peds in dense areas, cars on roads.

Instead, it presents information merely correlated with location.

And because that correlation in this case isn't causative, it deceives us into thinking that the locations are the causes.

A better chart would be a simply graph with other issues: speed of driving, for example; drug and alcohol use by the driver; efficacy of traffic enforcement; particular traffic laws that are safer; road planning issues (trees, width, obstacles, signs).

Please find that more useful chart and post it as penance for this tricky and hyperbolic post.

But have a happy Thanksgiving, first.

by Bill on Nov 24, 2011 8:30 am • linkreport

This is a good, and sad, map that shows the huge human toll of our auto dependency. 370,000 auto fatalities-- this is 100 times as many as the tragic 9/11 attacks. This also includes only the fatalities from accidents and not the shortened and less healthy lives from obesity, heart disease, and other preventable health issues from people who have to drive 1-2 hours today because of sprawl built around highways and the automobile.

You can't help but think about how many of these tragic deaths are preventable. More walkable communities and better transit would be a start. Actually enforcing texting and cell phone bans and intoxicated driving would also help. Lowering the speed limits from 70-75 on many highways would save lives. As much as they are detested, red light cameras have been proven to save lives. Better roadway design that helps ensure safety of everyone instead of saving drivers five seconds home on their commutes would also prevent fatalities.

by Ben on Nov 24, 2011 9:27 am • linkreport

So many I've been first on the scene on, so many I've personally investigated, and so many friends I've lost; all now memories, numbers in a spreadsheet, and dots on a map.

by Bossi on Nov 25, 2011 1:31 am • linkreport

Please stop fomenting the War on Cars!!! :(

by Ricky on Nov 25, 2011 8:46 am • linkreport

War on cars - sounds like a good idea :)

by Fred on Nov 25, 2011 9:31 am • linkreport

The friend I lost in 2000 was before the map's data. He was one year short of graduating from college and had a successful career in IT ahead of him. He had already been working for Trilogy and was back in town for the weekend to visit.

Unfortunately he lost control while driving (potentially too fast for conditions) and struck a light pole. If only cars had mandatory stability control systems (relatively cheap, prevent collisions) rather than or instead of mandatory airbags (relatively expensive, only mitigates consequences of collisions for occupants).

Part of the reason why I do not drive very fast today, and drive much slower in the rain.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 25, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

Fault notwithstanding, the way that deaths cluster at a number of places - even over a few blocks, makes it pretty useful for understanding where the road system needs to be adjusted to fit the city form and local uses. Look at the deaths in Columbia Heights or at the intersection of Nebraska and Connecticut Avenues.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 25, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

I think that anyone who looks at that map, then says, "Yes, but...many of these accidents were the fault of pedestrians for not being vigilant enough" has got serious issues.

Can you imagine a public health pandemic of similar scope, say food safety, where we simply shrugged off such carnage because "Well, sure tens of thousands are dying every year, but people need to check their hamburger's internal temperature before serving!"

by oboe on Nov 28, 2011 11:01 am • linkreport

Yep, leave it to someone else to do some information sharing.

by dan on Nov 28, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

@Neil Flanagan:

Look at the deaths in Columbia Heights or at the intersection of Nebraska and Connecticut Avenues.

It's clear people in that immediate area are simply dumber, and have a greater sense of self-destructive entitlement than in the city as a whole. Or perhaps it's a cultural thing, and their mothers never told them to look both ways before crossing the way that Roger Thornhill's did.

Either way, it has nothing to do with the way auto-centrism has shaped the built environment or the broader culture as a whole.

by oboe on Nov 28, 2011 3:50 pm • linkreport

Found my aunt, and a friend from high school. Killed on the same road a few years apart. Such a strange feeling, now they are dots.

by CaitieBird on Nov 28, 2011 7:39 pm • linkreport

Looks like being a pedestrian anywhere is the most dangerous thing, even more so than riding a motorcycle.

by Dangerous Pedestrians on Nov 29, 2011 3:31 pm • linkreport

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