Is the Naperville diamond interchange working?

The relatively rare concept of a diamond interchange opened at the Naperville intersection of I-88 and Route 59 in September 2015. Was the effort to reconstruct the interchange worth it?

The short answer: there has not been an official pronouncement. Proponents suggested the design has several advantages: fewer accidents since drivers are not making left turns onto or off of highway ramps, improved efficiency since cars can merge onto ramps on red lights, and less space needed. Here some pieces of evidence regarding the matter:

The Illinois Tollway is constructing another diamond interchange at I-90 and Elmhurst Road. Would they do this if their first attempt was unsuccessful?

Crashes at the intersection were down between 2015 (73) and 2016 (53).

-Since it is a busy intersection – over 180,000 vehicles a day – wouldn’t drivers and officials gone public if there were major issues with the new design? Some drivers still thought it odd as of April 2016 but Naperville issues said they were pleased.

According to DivergingDiamond.com, there are a number of diamond interchanges in the planning or construction stages across the United States.

The evidence seems to suggest the diamond interchange in Naperville is working. It still may be worthwhile to see when officials are willing to take credit or take a victory lap for their decision.

 

Does posting the number of highway deaths in Illinois lead to safer driving?

A columnist discusses the effects of signs on Illinois Tollways that post the number of automobile fatalities on area highways:

The first time I saw one of those grim Illinois expressway signs was in 2012. I was merrily driving to the family farm in Indiana to visit my mom when I spotted a roadside sign dishing a little shock and awe to commuters and vacationers. There was something cold about the little electric bulbs in the sign above my expressway lane letting me know: “679 TRAFFIC DEATHS THIS YEAR.”

It made me think…

That’s precisely what the sign was meant to do. While many states were seeing fewer traffic fatalities during the summer of 2012, Illinois was seeing a substantial increase in the number of people killed on Illinois roads in the first half of that year. After the Illinois Department of Transportation started posting a running total of the dead in July, the last half of 2012 saw fewer fatalities than the last half of sign-free 2011.

Still, the number of fatalities went up in 2012, from 918 to 957. Last year, with those same signs updating our death toll daily and urging us to drive more safely, our fatalities inched higher again, to 973.

This evidence suggests the signs had little effect. This would line up with research that suggests drivers don’t pay all that much attention to road signs; hence, the suggestion that perhaps no signs might even be better. Indeed, the Illinois Department of Transportation has moved on to other strategies to reduce traffic deaths:

Michael Rooker, the actor who played Merle Dixon on TV’s “The Walking Dead,” stars in the latest IDOT safety campaign, a series of videos at thedrivingdeadseries.com and Facebook posts titled “The Driving Dead.” The postings don’t have anything close to the power of watching a young mother of two die while pinned in her car, but perhaps they will prove more effective than the road signs. The catchphrase of “The Driving Dead” gives those behind the wheel a new way of thinking about driving.

I would be curious to know whether IDOT is pursuing these strategies based on evidence that suggest they work or the agency is mounting what they think might work and/or what is publicly visible. Driving is a dangerous activity – one of the most dangerous the average person will partake in each day – and you would want solutions that work rather than guesses.

What it takes to approach a rate of zero traffic fatalities

An expert discusses Sweden’s efforts to get to zero traffic fatalities:

But in Vision Zero, the accident is not the major problem. The problem is that people get killed or seriously injured. And the reason that people get serious injuries is mainly because people have a certain threshold where we can tolerate external violence, kinetic energy. And we know quite well now how much violence we can tolerate.One of the major things with Vision Zero now is to put that more explicitly on the table. It’s like if we’re talking about the environment, and you know you have a certain threshold when it comes to poison, or whatever. You can tolerate up to a certain level. So it’s not just to stop the traffic. You can actually allow traffic. But if you have places in your system where you have unprotected road users and protected road users, according to Vision Zero you can’t allow a higher speed than 30 kilometers per hour [18.6 mph]…

I will say that enforcement plays of course a role in Sweden, but not so much. We are going much more for engineering than enforcement. If you have a very dedicated police staff and they think it’s the most important thing, then you can be quite effective working with police. But I don’t think you will get a safe system. You will reduce risk, but you will not achieve a safe system.

What about camera enforcement?

We are doing it, but in a different way. First of all, it is a national policy. We have both rural and urban areas, and we work with both. And when it comes to safety cameras, which is what we call them, we have put them on most rural roads. We have one of the largest safety camera systems in the world, per population.

But they are not catching people — it’s nudging people. So we put up the cameras on a stretch, and we tell everyone, OK, now you’re going in this area, and in a friendly but firm way we say you have to keep the speed in this area because we have a history of crashes.

It sounds like this would create some interesting discussions in the United States: do we really want to nudge drivers in such directions or do we truly think cars and vehicles should the rulers of the road? Right now, many of our roads are geared toward helping drivers get from Point A to Point B as fast as they can. But, safety is an important issue and one that concerns a lot of people given the number of vehicle deaths.

Russia, a country where drivers need a dashboard camera

Wired explains why many Russian drivers have a dashboard camera – and no, it isn’t just to capture images of meteors.

The sheer size of the country, combined with lax — and often corrupt — law enforcement, and a legal system that rarely favors first-hand accounts of traffic collisions has made dash cams all but a requirement for motorists.

“You can get into your car without your pants on, but never get into a car without a dash cam,” Aleksei Dozorov, a motorists’ rights activist in Russia told Radio Free Europe last year…

Do a search for “Russia dash cam crash” in YouTube — or even better, Yandex.ru, the county’s equivalent of Google — and you’ll find thousands of videos showing massive crashes, close calls and attempts at insurance fraud by both other drivers and pedestrians. And Russian drivers are accident prone. With 35,972 road deaths in 2007 (the latest stats available from the World Health Organization), Russia averages 25.2 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people. The U.S., by comparison, had 13.9 road deaths per 100,000 people in the same year, despite having six times more cars.

A combination of inexpensive cameras, flash memory and regulations passed by the Interior Ministry in 2009 that removed any legal hurdles for in-dash cameras has made it easy and cheap for drivers to install the equipment.

The quick sociological take: a particular political and organizational setting leads to an incentive for having one’s own camera to provide evidence in possible accidents. I wonder if there is a segment of Russian law that now is about ensuring the footage of the camera is accurate, not doctored, and trustworthy in court.

The next logical question in my mind then is why don’t more American motorists have such devices? They can’t be that expensive and could be worthwhile in certain situations (although our law enforcement is presumably more trustworthy). At the least, YouTube viewers could benefit.

Can changes in states bring about “zero deaths” by car crash?

It may be a very difficult goal to reach but a number of states are aiming for no deaths in car crashes:

So the immediate focus is on putting an end to crashes that lead to fatalities. The roots of the program can be traced to Sweden, where 16 years ago safety officials declared that zero crash deaths is the only morally acceptable goal.The Illinois Department of Transportation adopted the goal of zero roadway fatalities in 2009 when it revised the state’s strategic highway safety plan. About 30 states have established their own programs aimed literally at driving down the death toll to zero.

A new study by the University of Minnesota evaluating the effectiveness of zero-death programs found that the states that have worked the longest promoting the four “E’s” of safety — enforcement, education, engineering and emergency medical services — have been the most successful at reducing crash fatalities.

Washington State in 2000 and Minnesota in 2003 were the first states to adopt the zero-fatality goal, the study said. Utah and Idaho also operate successful programs in which the study determined that a statistically significant fewer number of crash fatalities occurred after the zero-death initiatives were introduced.

While the research suggests pursuing this goal cuts the number of deaths, is there a point of diminishing returns or where the number is more “acceptable”? Perhaps this cause might join with other long-term wars in the US: the “war on auto deaths.” There could be some interesting work for sociologists to do here about the social construction of these goals. As the article notes, pursuing no deaths is at leaset partly a “morally acceptable goal.”

Another possible takeaway from the article which notes there has not been a death in four years on a commercial aircraft in the US: people should be more afraid of driving than flying.

How one woman helped make preventable injuries an American public health issue

The epidemiologist Susan P. Baker devoted her career to making preventable injuries a public health issue. Here is part of the story:

She embarked on an independent research project — a comparison of drivers who were not responsible for their fatal crashes with drivers who were — and in 1968 she sent Haddon a letter seeking federal financing for her study. He came through with $10,000 and continued to finance her research after he became president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety a year later…

Among Baker’s most important legacies is the widespread use of the infant car seat. By examining data from car crashes, she demonstrated that the passengers most likely to die were those younger than 6 months. They were killed at double the rate of 1-year-olds and triple the rate for ages 6 to 12. Why? Because babies rested in their mothers’ arms or laps, often in the front passenger seat, and because their still-fragile bodies were more susceptible to fatal injury than those of older children. Baker published her study in the journal Pediatrics in 1979, making headlines in newspapers across the country…

Around that time, Baker was one of the main authors of a report calling for the creation of a federal injury-prevention agency. Today the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control coordinates with state programs and underwrites research projects aimed at preventing injury, ranging from the intentional (rape, homicide, suicide) to the unintentional (falls, residential fires, drownings)…

Of course, Baker knows that we can’t make the world completely injury-proof. But her decades of research show how fairly simple preventive measures — fences around swimming pools, bike helmets, childproof caps on medicine containers — can save thousands of lives.

I couldn’t help thinking while reading this story that it demonstrates the interplay between science, culture, and government. The first paragraph of the article argues that in the 1960s that few people worried about preventable injuries but this has clearly changed since. Aiding this process was new scientific findings about injuries as well as presentable statistics that captured people’s attention. This reminds me of sociologist Joel Best’s explanation in Damned Lies and Statistics that the use of statistics emerged in the mid 1800s because reformers wanted to attach numbers and science to social problems they cared about. But for these numbers to matter and the science to be taken seriously, you need a culture as well as institutions that see science as a viable way of knowing about the world. Similarly, the numbers themselves are not enough to immediately lead to change; social problems such as automobile deaths go through a process by which the public becomes aware, a critical mass starts pressing the issue, and leaders respond by changing regulations. Is it a coincidence that these concerns about public health began to emerge in the 1960s at the same time of American ascendency in the scientific realm, the growth of the welfare state, the continued development of the mass media as well as mass consumption, and an era of more movements calling for human rights and governmental protections? Probably not.

h/t Instapundit

Discussing acceptable risk and gun deaths

One of the larger issues brought to light by the Arizona shootings is whether Americans want to risk the possibility of such an event occurring in the future. One commentator considers the trade-offs that might exist in limiting the risk of gun violence:

RealClearPolitics analyzed the most recent United Nation’s data to better understand American violence. The assault rate in Scotland, England, Australia and Germany is more than twice the US-assault rate, at times far more. Yet the US-murder rate is at least four times the rate of these developed nations. America’s murder rate ranks 53 among 153 nations. No other developed nation ranks within the top half. The comparison between assault and murder rates is rough; an assault is not always reported or discovered. Both rates are, however, based on criminal justice sources from 2003 to 2008. And the comparison, for all its imperfections, captures an important fact: Americans are not exceptional for their violence but exceptional for their extreme violence–murder.

American violence has known far worse days. In 2008, the national homicide rate reached its lowest level since 1965. But there are still about 12,000 gun related murders annually. Guns are involved in two-thirds of American homicides. The US firearm-murder rate ranks among third-world countries. It’s about ten times the rate of Western European nations like Germany…

There is an unspoken willingness to tolerate our share of murders. American hyper-capitalism makes a similar tradeoff. We subscribe to social Darwinism to a degree unseen in Western Europe. It’s one reason our economy is the fittest. But it also explains why the wealthiest nation in the world has a weaker social safety net than other developed countries. The conservative equation of freedom: lower taxes and fewer regulations on guns, equals more freedom. Liberals adhere to their own zealous formulation of American freedom. The left has won more civil rights for the mentally ill, but those rights will sometimes risk the public’s welfare.

This is an interesting take on the situation. Whose rights should be protected? Are we willing to risk similar events occurring?

Considering the relative risks might also be helpful. Gun deaths, particularly like those lives taken in Arizona, seem particularly tragic and sudden. In comparison, over 33,000 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents in 2009. Which is the bigger priority: limiting gun deaths or motor vehicle accidents. These sorts of questions are quite difficult to answer and often don’t seem to be part of national conversations.

[Another note: can we really say that “our economy is the fittest”? One index recently named Hong Kong the world’s “freest economy.”]

[A final question: is it strange that this particular violence occurrence is getting so much attention when there are 12,000 gun deaths a year in the United States? I’m reminded of the talk in Chicago in recent years about whether the deaths in poorer neighborhoods were receiving the attention they should from police and politicians.]