What is the safest width for two-lane traffic roads? An experienced pedestrian accident lawyer knows there is controversy surrounding this question and the stakes are high because getting it wrong can mean a significantly increased risk a walker will be killed in a motor vehicle crash.
Determining the Safest Road Width
Determining the safest width for a normal two-lane road is complicated, especially because ideal road width may differ for residential and urban roads rather than interstate highways.
Research into road design led to the development Interstate Highway Safety Standards (IHSS). In 1966, and an expert who was instrumental in designing IHSS standards spoke before congress in a National Highway Safety Hearing. In an effort to replicate the relatively safe conditions of highways, some highway design principles were adopted for use on other roads, including roads in urban areas.
One road-design theory that became prevalent during this time was the Forgiving Highways theory. The forgiving highways theory argues wider roads are better because more space is available to "forgive" drivers who make mistakes. Instead of a driver who goes off road veering onto a dangerous area, a wider road can provide a safe space for a controlled stop.
Believing the forgiving highway principles were sound, municipalities began expanding urban roads from the standard 10 foot or 10.5 foot width to be 12 feet wide.
Now, however, there are increasing concerns these wide roads endanger motorists rather than preventing accidents. Streets Blog and Project for Public Spaces report on recent evidence highlighting dangers of the forgiving highways method of road design.
Pedestrians, especially, may be at greater risk both of becoming involved in collisions and of suffering serious or fatal injuries when accidents actually happen.
A road that is 12 foot wide is going to take longer for a pedestrian to get across. This means a pedestrian may be put into the path of a vehicle for a longer period of time, which can be dangerous when drivers don't pay attention or misjudge how long it will take a pedestrian to cross the road.
A wider road also leaves less room for bus stops, sidewalks, and road shoulders, which means less space for walkers and for bicycle riders. Pedestrians may be too close to traffic, in the path of bicycle riders, and without the space necessary to stay safe while walking.
Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is wider roads change driver behavior. Drivers tend to speed up when the roads are wider because they feel safer. This may not be as big of an issue on highways because there are not generally pedestrians on highways and because highways are more often straight and flat than local urban and suburban roads. In residential and urban areas, however, faster drivers are more likely to hit pedestrians.
When a pedestrian gets hit, the speed the vehicle is going makes a big difference. A pedestrian hit by a 30 MPH car has seven to 10 times the chances of dying compared with a pedestrian hit by a 10 MPH car.
With both more chance of a pedestrian being hit and more chance of a high-speed impact, the forgiving highways method of road design can have deadly consequences for those who like to walk.