The bay region’s highways are increasingly more crowded with motorists, and the dangers increase along with them. The more motorist crammed on the roads, the bigger the risk of an accident. More and more, cyclists and pedestrians are traveling the roads along with motorists and facing the same risks. Newly released data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission showed the number of fatal automobile, motorcycle, bicycle and pedestrian crashes in the Bay Area jumped 43% from 2010 to 2016.
Researchers usually point to two major factors as a cause for this uptick. More drivers and longer commutes. The sharp rise in population and the increasingly long and mind-numbing commutes account for only a portion of the increase. There was a total of 455 fatal crashes in the area in 2016. Compare this statistic with 318 in 2010. Five out of the six years showed increases in the death toll. This followed four previous years of decline. But 2016 was not the highest point. In 2003, there were 509 fatal crashes. The highest number in the 16-year span studied. Experts have some other theories for the rise including distracted driving and a slow-down in advancements in safety features like seatbelts, anti-lock brakes, and shatter-proof windshields.
Ultimately, the real problem is simply human error. Data analysts have pointed out three major factors that continually top the charts of accident causes: unsafe turns, DUI, and speeding. Unsafe driver behavior is the cause of most vehicle accidents on the bay area roads. It isn’t only the Bay Area, either. There has been a steady uptick in deadly car wrecks all across the United States since the Great Recession, which officially ended in 2009. Between 2010 and 2016, deadly accidents rose 33% in California.
When the economy is bad, there are typically fewer people traveling for leisure or commuting far for work. As the economy improves, people venture out more often. Since the recession has ended, we are seeing a resurgence of traveling and the accidents that come with it. While there are tons of cool new technological miracles in the car world that can save lives when human error is the issue, most of them are still not in the majority of cars on the road. They are in new model cars that you do not see a lot of in the daily commute yet. Driver-assist technologies such as alarms that warn drivers when they drift out of their lane or are heading toward a crash, and backup cameras and alarms will be more helpful when more cars on the road have them. Completely driverless cars, revered as the no-crash future, are still years away from mass implementation.
In the meantime, officials and activists are conversing with regional transportation planning agencies to find out what they are doing to stem deadly accidents and what the Bay Area can improve on. The answer could be additional enforcement for speeding, and impaired drivers as well as additional educational campaigns for motorists. Some cities are focusing on redesigning their streets altogether. San Jose, Fremont, and San Francisco have shown support for the Vision Zero movement which is an effort to redesign local roads in order to eliminate fatal crashes. Statistics have shown since San Francisco adopted the program in 2014 and saw a decrease in fatal accidents in 2016. In Alameda and Contra Costa counties, city officials have noticed more cyclists and pedestrians on the roads and cite them as a possible reason for the increase in fatal collisions. They note that more protected bike lanes and changing streets to encourage slower driving could help.
Whatever the reason, Bay Area roads have become more dangerous than ever. Due diligence and careful driving can only help so much when the guy next to you is speeding. There will always be some incompetent, or DUI driver on the road with you. The best chance at 100% safe roads may be the day we have all driverless cars on the roads. While they are not error free, they have a far better rate than humans.