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Rise in traffic deaths: an explanation and a suggestion | READER COMMENTARY

Speeding traffic triggers the operation of a speed camera on northbound JFX (Jones Falls Expressway) between the Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane exits. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)

Blame bike lanes and speed cameras for recent rise in traffic fatalities

As an automotive journalist I feel I must respond to the editorial of Monday, Sept. 12 on traffic deaths (”Traffic deaths are up, but where’s the urgency to reduce them?”). Indeed, traffic fatalities are up: in 2021 by 10.5% over 2020 (42,915 versus 38,824), and by 7.1% in 2020, after three straight years of decline.

That 10.5% number seems alarming on the surface, and when you look at the fatality rate — number of fatalities per billion vehicle miles traveled, or VMT — the statistics are even worse, although 2021 was slightly better than 2020, with 1.33 VMT compared to 1.34. These fatalities are the most appropriate numbers to compare since if people don’t drive there surely is no accident. The lowest fatality rate we experienced in many decades was in 2014 when it was 1.08 VMT, but before then, the VMT was much higher than it is now.

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In 2000, it was 1.53; in 1990, it was 2.08; and in 1980 it was a whopping 3.35. To make the point even further: In 1970 it was 4.74, and that year we had 52,627 fatalities, one of the highest years on record. So all in all, the current traffic fatality rate isn’t terribly out of sight.

But what is causing the increase over the past two years? It isn’t the lack of safety equipment, as all modern cars have crash mitigation features well beyond what was common just 10 years ago. I believe it is two things. First is the urban push for “traffic calming” and “Vision Zero” efforts, where cities are removing driving lanes in favor of bike lanes or center medians, in order to push the population out of cars and into some sort of public transportation. The California town of Paradise was totally destroyed by fire in 2018, and many residents died because the town had reduced its main thoroughfare from two lanes each direction to one, thus restricting access of emergency equipment and population escape. The lane reduction was an attempt at reducing traffic. Where cities have converted driving lanes to bike lanes, in most cases bicycles are rarely seen. The reduced traffic lanes are frustrating to drivers who then demonstrate unsafe driving. City planners need to realize that America was built on personal mobility, and to try to take that away because of the population growth that everyone seems to want is simply not going to work.

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Second is the common method of traffic law enforcement in the U.S., where many city budgets depend on traffic fines, and the standard ploy is to hide and catch speeders unawares so they can bolster the town’s coffers, as compared to elsewhere in the world where the standard is brightly-colored and well-marked traffic police cars to deter speeding and other offenses. We need to stop building town budgets based on traffic fines and get traffic police into clearly visible cars so that potential speeders and other lawbreakers will resist the urge to speed in the first place. I should also mention that speed limits are artificially low; the limit on the Baltimore Beltway is 55 mph, yet the unimpeded flow of traffic (no traffic jams etc.) averages 75 mph. If you get one driver going 55 in the left lane, it causes accidents as everybody cuts in and out to get around them.

We won’t even get into a possible third influence, where in nearly every automobile ad we see the vehicles racing around at high speeds with the ad touting the thrill of such driving. No wonder we have speeders causing accidents.

— Robert C. Rassa, Fallson

The writer is a contributing editor to Porsche PANORAMA Magazine

Police pace cars can slow traffic on I-83

A solution for the speeders on I-83, the Jones Falls Expressway, is using pace cars. The speed cameras are located in a known position by many drivers on the expressway and are easy to pass. The pace car is a visible deterrent as if a police car were riding up and down the highway. The pace cars can be purchased as used cars to look like motorists going to and from Baltimore. The pace car speed system is designed by Baltimore City. The pace police are transportation employees and have authority in their duties. Now the speeders have no idea where the flashbulb will go off and will put them in the position we want them to be: paying a fine for their indiscretion. The penalties should be the speed cost and include a processing fee from the Transportation Department. The adage “seeing is believing” is the deterrent.

— John Holter, Baltimore


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