The mandate would add about $300 to the cost of every car, or several billion dollars a year. The radios would not add much weight to the cars, but once most cars have them the collective weight would increase fuel consumption by more than 30 million gallons a year.
In exchange for these costs, NHTSA estimates that the rule will save 23 to 31 lives by 2025. These numbers are small because the benefits of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications are nil unless both vehicles in a potential communication have them. Since the average car on the road is more than 11 years old, it will take about that many years before most cars have V2V and many more years before nearly all cars have it. Yet even by 2060, NHTSA projects the technology will save only 987 to 1,365 lives.
Last week’s commuter train crash in New Jersey has left people wondering how safe our transportation system really is. We can answer this question with data from National Transportation Statistics, which show passenger miles, fatalities, and injuries by mode of transportation since 1990.
Last 10 Years
Table One: Fatalities per billion passenger miles by mode. As noted in the text, the most recent decade is 2005-2014 except for commuter rail, which is 2003-2012. Sources: Calculated from National Transportation Statistics, tables 1-40, 2-1, 2-34, and 2-35.
The statistics show transit data only through 2012, but the Federal Transit Administration has safety data for the years since then. Unfortunately, the Federal Railroad Administration, not the Federal Transit Administration, monitors commuter rail safety, and it doesn’t seem to publish those numbers, so we only have them through 2012.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 35,200 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2015, a 7.7 percent increase from 2014. This increase is a result of a combination of a 3.5 percent increase in vehicle miles of travel plus a 4.1 percent increase in fatalities per billion miles traveled.
The 32,500 number is a “statistical projection,” not an exact count, which won’t be available until this fall. NHTSA’s previous statistical projections have been fairly accurate; the estimate for 2014 turned out to match the final number exactly, while the average for the previous six years was off by only 26. The worst was in 2012, when the projection was 298 too high.
According to NHTSA’s estimate, fatalities increased the most in the Northwest (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington), with a 20 percent gain. Fatalities declined 1 percent in the South Central region (Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas), while they grew from 4 to 10 percent in the rest of the country.
It’s amazing how someone can look at a basic set of facts and come up with completely the wrong conclusion. Such is an article in The Atlantic blaming urban poverty on highways.
“City planners,” says the article’s writer, Alana Semuels, “saw the crowded African-American areas as unhealthy organs that needed to be removed. To keep cities healthy, planners said, these areas needed to be cleared and redeveloped. Highway construction could be federally funded. Why not use those federal highway dollars to also tear down blight and rebuild city centers?”
Semuels then continues with the usual claims that highways divided neighborhoods and drained the cities of wealthy residents who moved to the suburbs, “taking with them tax revenues, even though their residents still used city services.” The result was concentrations of poverty in the cities.
As the Antiplanner observed yesterday, driving increased by 3.5 percent in 2015. Along with that increase came an 8 percent increase in traffic fatalities, according to the National Safety Council.
Six years ago, data revealed that 2009 traffic fatalities had declined by nearly 10 percent from 2008, which itself had nearly 10 percent fewer fatalities than 2007. This dramatic change left many experts perplexed. Some credited safer cars, but the Antiplanner suggested that much of the decline had resulted from the recession-induced decline in driving: 2009 miles were nearly 1 percent less than 2008’s, which were nearly 2 percent less than 2007.
If a slight reduction in congestion due to less driving could result in such a large decrease in fatalities, then similarly a reduction in congestion due to increased roadway capacity or other congestion-reducing measures could similarly save lives. Conversely, the Antiplanner suggested, cities that deliberately allowed congestion to increase in order to get people to stop driving were killing people.
The Congressional Budget Office has issued a report encouraging Congress to promote the use of mileage-based user fees to pay for roads. The current highway funding process is very inefficient, says the report. For example, urban roads are most heavily used and need the most maintenance, but most maintenance dollars are spent on rural roads.
Click image to download this 1.6-MB report.
The report offers three solutions to this problem: mileage-based user fees; allocating spending on the basis of benefits and costs; and linking spending to “appropriately chosen” performance measures. The report does not say so, but the problem with the second and third solutions is that assessments of benefits, costs, and performance measures by government agencies inevitably become political. Attempts to use either of these solutions at the state level have had, at best, mixed results and in fact mostly negative ones.
Last week’s Congressional passage of the 1,301-page Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act represents, for the most part, a five-year extension of existing highway and transit programs with several steps backwards. Once a program that was entirely self-funded out of dedicated gasoline taxes and other highway user fees, over the past two-and-one-half decades the surface transportation programs has become increasingly dependent on deficit spending. The FAST Act does nothing to mitigate this, neither raising highway fees (which include taxes on Diesel fuel, large trucks, trailers, and truck tires) nor reducing expenditures.
If anything, deficit spending will increase under the FAST Act, which will spend $305 billion ($61 billion a year) over the next five years. Highway revenues, which were $39.4 billion in F.Y. 2015, are not likely to be much more than $40 million a year over the next five years, so the new law incurs deficits of about $20 billion a year. The law includes $70 billion in “offsets”–funding sources that could otherwise be applied to reducing some other deficit–which won’t be enough to keep the program going for the entire five years.
Aside from deficit spending, the greatest mischief in federal surface transportation programs come from competitive grants. When Congress created the Interstate Highway System in 1956, all federal money was distributed to the states using formulas. But in 1991 Congress created a number of competitive grant programs, supposedly so the money would be spent where it was most needed. In fact, research by the Cato Institute and Reason Foundation showed that Congress and the administration tended to spend the money politically, either in the districts represented by the most powerful members of Congress or where the administration thought it would get the greatest political return for its party.
The 2012 surface transportation law contained no earmarks and turned all but two major competitive grant programs into formula funds, thus taking the politics out of most transportation funding. This upset some members of Congress because they could no longer get credit for bringing pork home to their districts. So it is not surprising that the FAST Act goes backwards, putting more money into political grants than ever before.
Some people have argued that a defect of high-occupancy/toll lanes is that they are expensive to install as they require their own on- and off-ramps in order to keep them separate from the general lanes. But–as the Antiplanner observed on a recent trip from Oregon to Texas–the Utah Department of Transportation has nearly 150 miles of HOT lanes that cost little more than ordinary freeway lanes.
Utah’s express lanes run along Interstate 15 from Spanish Forks (south of Provo) to South Ogden, about 72 miles in each direction. They are separated from the general lanes only by a double stripe. The “on- and off-ramps” consist of periodic replacement of the double stripes with dashed lines. Vehicles are free to enter and exit the express lanes where the lines are dashed, while they aren’t supposed to cross where there are two solid lines.
Oregon is the slowest state in the West. No other western state has such slow speed limits. Nationally, only Hawai’i is slower.
Texas, meanwhile, is the fastest state in the country. On a two-lane rural road, for example, Oregon allows speeds no higher than 55 mph; Texas may allow 75 mph. On a four-lane freeway, Oregon may allow 65 mph; Texas freeways are often 80 mph.
When a state highway enters a city with stop lights, Oregon speed limits slow to no more than 45 mph; Texas may keep speeds as high as 75 mph. That’s right; you can be legally driving at 75 mph and suddenly have to stop at a red light.
Per capita driving in the United States grew from 1 mile per year in 1900 to more than 10,000 miles per year in 2006. During that time, it grew in almost every year except for a few recession years (1932, 1933, 1938, 1974, 1979, and 1980) and two years of World War II (1942 and 1943).
In 2007, however, growth flattened and after that per capita driving fell below 9,400 miles per year. Some have argued that this is evidence that Americans are turning away from cars and to transit, cycling, and walking. Others say that the decline can be completely explained by the recession; although the financial crisis took place in 2008, the housing bubble that led to that crisis actually began collapsing in 2006.
The latest traffic data from the Federal Highway Administration suggests that people are picking up where they left off in 2006. Total miles of driving in the first quarter of 2015 set a new record and was nearly 4 percent greater than the same period in 2014. The Census Bureau estimates that the population is growing at less than 1 percent per year, so per capita driving is once again growing.