Each year, more than 1.25 million lives are lost on the roads around the world. Georgia saw a surge in fatal crashes, with an estimated 1,806 deaths due to traffic accidents in 2021, along with tens of thousands of injuries.
Traffic-related fatalities nowadays are often seen as “inevitable,” “unavoidable,” and “common.” That's just how things are, some might say, rationalizing away the horrors of automobile accidents as a grim trade-off that we must make for the sake of modern conveniences.
But does it really have to be this way?
According to researchers and governments studying the problem: no, it doesn’t. There are concrete solutions that cities and communities can put in place to minimize accidents and reduce harm.
It’s called the “Safe System” approach and it puts human life (and its intrinsic vulnerability) at the center of its vision for a world with zero road deaths. The onus for safer roads falls mainly on city planners and officials rather than drivers and pedestrians who have no choice but to use the infrastructure they are given.
The human body can only take so much force. Although automotive safety standards are always improving, there is only so much manufacturers can do as a reaction to the problem of dangerous roadways. By putting human life first instead of speed, the safety needs of road users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists (who account for more than half of all traffic deaths), are taken into consideration.
By creating safer mobility systems and providing a variety of choices for all travelers, communities can save lives and create healthier, more welcoming environments.
1. Build More Compact, Connected Communities
Land use planning going forward is critical for improving Atlanta’s traffic and road safety. The Safe System approach encourages more mass transit like MARTA lines and buses, creating denser neighborhoods to decrease reliance on private vehicles, separating high-speed roads so they don’t pass through mixed use areas, connecting streets, and reducing trip distances.
Urban sprawl, research has found, is directly related to poor road safety, and Atlanta is almost entirely sprawl. High speed roads cut through low density communities. Sidewalks sit empty because the distances between neighborhoods and businesses are immense. It’s a problem that has been decades in the making.
But why change? Well, for every 1% shift toward a more compact and connected urban environment, all traffic fatality types fall by nearly 1.5%, with pedestrian fatality rates decreasing by nearly 1.5–3.6%.
The inefficiency and wastefulness in terms of time, resources, and energy created by Atlanta’s sprawl is even more striking when compared to the city of Barcelona.
Despite sharing similar population levels, Atlanta takes up five times as much land area. Nearly 95% of people living in the metro Atlanta area use a car, compared to 71% of Barcelonans who take mass transit, bike, or walk to their destinations. A heavy reliance on personal vehicles means Atlanta experiences hundreds of traffic fatalities each year, whereas Barcelona experiences less than a few dozen.
2. Design Smarter (Not Faster) Streets
Street design matters when it comes to safety. Good design can enhance quality of life by improving visibility and pedestrian accessibility, while encouraging safer behavior from drivers.
Atlanta’s sprawl means businesses and homes are spread farther away, prioritizing speed at the cost of everything else. Data shows that most accidents and fatalities happen on suburban highways and intersections as people rush home or out to events.
Better street design can reduce speeds to appropriate levels and minimize points of conflict so there are less opportunities for driver error. Ways to design better, safer roads include:
- Traffic safety audits
- Prioritizing safe design when drafting new projects
- Providing safe, separate spaces for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists
- Using neighborhood traffic calming methods such as speed humps, curb extensions, median refuge islands, roundabouts, etc.
- Separating highways in urban areas from pedestrians
- Protected bicycle lanes in cities
The data shows that safer street design measures can significantly reduce accidents and collisions. Roundabouts and traffic circles reduce injuries by 70–90%, chicanes (curvatures) slow vehicles and reduce injury rates by 54%, and speed humps near residential and school zones reduce accident injuries by 41%.
3. Provide Multiple Transit Options
Atlanta’s urban sprawl makes implementing a variety of mobility options difficult, but not impossible. High-quality public transit is safer than traveling by car and helps people who are students, low-income, elderly, disabled, or visiting from out of state. Bus transit alone can reduce fatal crashes on urban roads by half. Other positive benefits include less congestion and reduced need for parking, which takes up valuable urban space.
4. Moderate Vehicle Speeds
Speeding is a common problem on Atlanta streets. Whether it’s downtown or in the suburbs, passenger cars and large trucks regularly zip down roads at 40-50 mph or more, putting pedestrians and other riders at high risk of fatal accidents.
Vehicle speeds should match the purpose of the area automobiles are traveling through. Studies have shown that for every 1% increase in speed there is a 4% increase in fatal crashes.
Reducing speeds and altering the placement of high-speed roads away from dense pedestrian areas won’t affect travel time by much (intersections have a much more significant impact). Narrower lanes, wider sidewalks, raised crosswalks, curb extensions and other smart street design choices can help achieve the correct speeds for a given location.
5. Enforce Laws and Regulations
Fair and consistent enforcement of traffic laws provides a strong economic incentive for drivers to adapt to safer commuting habits. The U.S. does a fair job enforcing traffic laws, including cracking down on drunk driving, enforcing child car seat requirements, mandating seatbelt use for both drivers and passengers, and upholding other motor vehicle laws.
Atlanta could improve traffic safety by decreasing speed limits (especially in urban areas), requiring drivers to yield to bicyclists and scooter riders, and implementing red light cameras to punish and deter red-light runners.
6. Improve Public Education Regarding Transportation
Road safety education is about more than being aware of laws and the consequences of disobeying them. It is also about overcoming misconceptions, lack of awareness about certain safety practices, and how to react to different situations on the road. Thorough, highly supervised, hands-on educational programs can help children become safe and confident pedestrians, bike riders, and vehicle passengers.
Teenage drivers are the most vulnerable on the road due to lack of experience and distractions. Learners who receive more hours of on-road supervision experienced fewer crashes than learners with fewer hours. Graduated licensing systems by which new drivers earn driving privileges in stages led to a 20-40% decrease in crash risk for young drivers.
Why a Comprehensive Road Safety System Matters
Globally, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for people 15-29 years old. If action is not taken now, by 2030 motor vehicle accidents will be the seventh-largest cause of death worldwide.
In 2020, Georgia experienced the most traffic fatalities across all road users in a decade, with a total of 1,556 people killed. The deaths involved more than 1,000 passengers (all seat positions), more than 170 motorcyclists, and more than 250 pedestrians and bicyclists.
Behind these deaths are the tens of thousands of accident victims who survived their wrecks but suffered painful injuries, some gaining lifelong disabilities.
Implementing Vision Zero in Atlanta
The Atlanta Department of Transportation (ATLDOT) committed to implementing its version of Vision Zero in 2020 through the use of data analysis and intentional strategies. The goal is to eliminate all traffic deaths and injuries and create a safe, welcoming, and inclusive city.
Some improvements have already been made. The default speed limit for many city streets was reduced to 25 mph and the ATLDOT is testing pedestrian scrambles (diagonal crosswalks) at intersections like 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue.
If You’re Injured in a Car Accident, What Are Your Options?
Eliminating traffic accidents and injuries won’t happen overnight. Car accidents in Atlanta are the unfortunate norm and will continue that way until things change.
If you’re injured in a severe car accident in Atlanta, we recommend consulting with a local personal injury lawyer to discuss your case. Settling with the insurance company without understanding all of your rights means you could potentially miss out on extra benefits that are available to help with your recovery.
Our Atlanta personal injury attorneys at Gary Martin Hays & Associates are highly experienced regarding Georgia law and know how to help get accident victims the medical care they need. Even if you don’t hire our law firm, we still urge you to talk to an attorney you trust to go over your legal rights.
Time is of the essence in car accident cases; the sooner you get started, the more likely your case will have a positive outcome.
As Atlantans, it can be tough out there, fighting traffic and dealing with near-misses on a daily basis. So if the worst should happen and you end up hurt in a wreck through no fault of your own, you need a local attorney you can trust to protect your case.
Contact our Atlanta car accident attorneys today to learn more about how we can un-complicate the process of a personal injury claim and put your mind at ease.