U.S. pedestrians, cyclists at greater danger than European counterparts

August 28, 2003

American pedestrians and cyclists beware: You are two to six times more likely to be killed on the road than your German or Dutch counterparts.

Even if Americans were to heed calls to park their cars and make their journeys on foot, they are hindered in this healthy endeavor by "a range of other public policies that make these activities inconvenient, unpleasant and above all, unsafe," according to a report in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"Per kilometer traveled, [American] pedestrians were 23 times more likely to get killed than car occupants in 2001, while bicyclists were 12 times more likely than car occupants to get killed," say John Pucher, Ph.D., of Rutgers University and Lewis Dijkstra, Ph.D., of the European Commission.

But Americans can learn some safety lessons from the Germans and Dutch, who have reduced their rates of pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries during the last two decades, according to the researchers.

For instance, streets in Germany and the Netherlands have more car-free zones, median islands, well-marked crosswalks, and bike paths and lanes joined in a coordinated network lacking in American cities.

"Dutch and German bikeway systems serve practical destinations for everyday travel, not just recreational attractions, as with most bike paths in America," Pucher says.

Reduced speed limits, along with speed bumps, deliberate dead ends and truck bans are also part of efforts to "calm" traffic in residential areas in the two countries. City center speed limits and limited and expensive parking help regulate traffic in more urban areas. Neighborhood design also encourages safe walking and riding by clustering residential and commercial building developments together.

Pucher and Dijkstra say that German and Dutch traffic laws are strictly enforced as well, with motorists "almost always found to be at least partly at fault" in accidents with pedestrian and cyclists, and jaywalking and running a red light on a bike severely fined.

Extensive traffic education in the two countries may also be a factor in their safer streets, according to the researchers, who say that all children receive safe walking and biking training by age 10.

"They are taught not just the traffic regulations but how to walk and bicycle defensively, to anticipate dangerous situations and to react appropriately. That sort of safety education is completely lacking in the United States," Pucher says.

The researchers say that similar traffic policies could be introduced in the United States, "promoting safer, more convenient and more pleasant walking and cycling conditions."

"Repeated waves of fad diets, rising memberships in health clubs, exercise equipment in more homes, diet pills and liposuction have all been total failures in fighting the current obesity epidemic. Why not try integrating walking and cycling into the daily travel routines of Americans?" Pucher says.

The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Health Behavior News Service: 202-387-2829 or www.hbns.org
Interviews: Contact John Pucher at 732-932-3822 at ext. 722 or pucher@rci.rutgers.edu.
American Journal of Public Health: 202-777-2511 or www.ajph.org.

ADVISORY: An hour-long teleconference featuring editors and researchers of the American Journal of Health Promotion and the American Journal of Public Health, both publishing special issues on the effect of the built environment on health, is open to interested journalists at 10 a.m. (ET) on Thursday, Aug. 28. Please call Chuck Alexander at (301) 652-1558 to reserve a line for the audio conference. To access the audio conference, call 1-800-550-7131 and reference the "Sprawl and Health Conference Call" and ID #237050.

Center for Advancing Health

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