Vision realistic

From an e-mail about the 2016 Progress Report of the Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition:

Based on our assessment, the City has made progress, but the City will need to dedicate more capital resources and funding for staff in order to eliminate traffic fatalities in Boston by 2030.

It  may be an uncomfortable to hear, but the expression “eliminate traffic fatalities” makes me uncomfortable. Why? because it is fantasy. The number of traffic fatalities can be reduced, but they cannot be eliminated. As long as people are in motion, there will be crashes, and some of them will be fatal.

If crash reports are collected over a small enough area and for a short enough time, though, the count may be zero. It is possible to make claims of zero fatalities even now. As an example, there are only one to five traffic fatalities per year (see data) in Waltham, the city of 62,000 residents where I live. With such low numbers of fatalities, occurring at random times, the statistical variation is very large, and in any given month it is more likely than not that there will be no fatalities. If a campaign to reduce fatalities succeeds, then for some entire year, there will be none and a claim may be made that they have been eliminated. But even for the safest modes of transportation — train, bus, commercial air travel — there are fatalities. The task of reducing fatalities is never finished, and from time to time it faces new challenges, as demographics, behavior, infrastructure and equipment change. One example is distracted driving due to use of cell phones, which is being held to account for a slight increase in fatalities in recent years.  Vehicles with robotic crash avoidance, on the other hand, may result in a major decrease, but will never completely eliminate fatalities.

The bicycle industry advocacy organization has already used the tactic of collecting data over a small area and short time to claim results which would not stand with a wider sampling — example here.

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