The Hidden Costs of Personal Mobility

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A biker struck by a car in Beijing. Courtesy of pmorgan of Flickr.

It’s helpful to think about traffic safety with the following thought experiment: What would happen in a democratic forum, if the world’s population, represented by elected officials, sat down and collectively decided upon the appropriate costs of personal mobility? Would they agree that 1.2 million deaths every year would be the right trade off for the freedom that the car and other modes of motorized transport provide? Or would they think that such a sacrifice of life is not worth the benefit? What about the so-called “vulnerable road users,” pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, and users of public transportation, often those who don’t own cars? Because they are the most at risk of being struck down on the road, is it fair that we sacrifice the people who very infrequently enjoy the benefits of cars?

My guess would be that such a sacrifice would be morally odious to most people. That’s not to say that all forms of motorized transport should be abolished as a consequence. Why so many people are dying is largely because vulnerable road users have been marginalized during urban planning decisions and are often forced to share road space with motorized vehicles. So small things like transport and urban planning can have a profound impact on public safety. In the end, better design of cities would make tradeoffs like the one discussed above practically irrelevant.

To learn more about traffic safety visit a post I wrote at EarthTrends.

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