It is common among many transportation advocates to posit that we can only really solve the traffic violence problem by redesigning roadways to reduce the opportunity for drivers to speed, and many other driver behaviors which endanger walkers, bicyclists, and other drivers (not to mention sign posts, street furniture, and business fronts). It is true that we have designed our roadways to encourage fast driving, and to passing through rather than stopping, which is to say mobility instead of access. All of this is true. Everything from roadway design standards (federal, state and local), traffic law, signing, widening, and removal of street trees, makes roadways more dangerous and less usable by anyone not in a motor vehicle. So, yes, we need to redesign roads.
Yes, and. At the same time, we need to hold drivers accountable. The focus on fixing roads tends to ignore the contribution of reckless (sociopathic and psychopathic) driving to traffic violence. Every decision to go faster than is safe, to fail to yield to walkers, to pass a bicyclist too close, to use your motor vehicle to intimidate others, to disrupt people’s lives with intentionally loud exhaust and sound, to make unnecessary trips, is a decision. It could be decided otherwise.
I acknowledge that the trend towards blaming roadways, and the engineers who designed them, is a reaction to law enforcement using traffic law as an excuse for pretext stops, where the intent is not traffic safety but the identification and oppression of people of color and the poor. That is demonstrably true, for anyone who reads the research data on traffic stops, or for anyone out on the street paying attention, for that matter. So I am absolutely not advocating for traditional law enforcement, and in fact think that law enforcement has no place in Vision Zero efforts.
But there are other ways of holding drivers accountable. Automated traffic signal enforcement is already in place, though at far too few locations. Automated speed enforcement could be in place if CHP and other law enforcement agencies stopped killing it at every legislative session, with complicity of our windshield perspective governor. Automated enforcement of failure to yield to pedestrians is more complicated, but achievable. I continue to believe that it is a small though very significant portion of drivers who most egregiously violate the law, and kill the most people. If we can control those people, then we can eliminate much death and destruction. Not all, but most.
But how do we control those people? In my experience, most of those people are high income, entitled people, driving expensive cars and SUVs. They are often the people that others consider leaders in business and government. These are not people whose behavior will be controlled by a traffic ticket. We must up our game on them. First, base fines for violation of traffic law on the value of the vehicle being driven. That has the advantage of removing the valid concern about the effect of enforcement on lower income people. Second, impound the vehicle after a certain number of tickets. Third, confiscate the vehicle, sell it off, and use the proceeds to improve roadway safety.
So, after three rants about drivers (red-light-running bullies, Yield to walkers? Nah., and this one), I’ll go back to roadway design. Yes, that is where the ultimate solution lies.