Is it Safer to Drive or Take Public Transit?

by JRO on June 29, 2013

As the United States gravitates toward greener living, many Americans ponder the various ways of commuting to work. Most citizens simply want to know which is safer, driving a privately owned vehicle or taking public transportation. However, other people are more interested in finding ways of making all forms of transportation safer to use.

Safety Statistics

Determining which mode of transportation is the safest is an easy task. Several government agencies, organizations, and industries have collected statistical data relating to motor vehicle and public transit accidents over the past few decades. For instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 32,885 fatalities due to crashes in 2010.  NHTSA also broke down the grand total into categories by what mode of transportation the person was using when the fatal crash occurred.

•           Passenger cars – 12,435
•           Light trucks – 9,752
•           Large trucks – 529
•           Buses – 44
•           Other/Unknown type of vehicle – 543
•           Motorcycles – 4,502
•           Pedestrian – 4,280
•           Pedal-cyclist – 618
•           Other form of non-motorized transportation – 182

Although this data only reflects a single year’s fatalities, NHTSA’s Fatal Accident Reporting System’s comparison results have been consistent since 1994. Each of the archived FARS reports from 1994-2010 clearly demonstrate that buses have fewer fatalities than any other form of transportation covered by the reports.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) also provides proof that modes of public transportation have consistently been safer than privately owned vehicles for decades. According to BTS, there were 279 fatalities involving a combination of motor bus, commuter rail, heavy rail, light rail, demand response, van pool, and automated guide-way in 2010. However, unlike the FARS statistics, the BTS total fatality count includes all reported incidents, including work accidents, and are not merely crash fatalities. Much statistical data exists regarding injuries due to collisions and specific types of transportation as well. The majority of the research results are available online and at public libraries.

Safety Improvements

Determining ways to improve the safety of all forms of travel simultaneously is not an easy task. Each mode presents its own unique risk factors, which makes it difficult to create a single solution that resolves all the safety hazards involved. Generally, these elements must be a part of the solution:

• building of new infrastructures, such as highways, rails, and bridges to meet growing demands and to reduce traffic congestion;

• repair or replacement of damaged infrastructures, such as older roads and bridges;

• good maintenance and upkeep of existing infrastructures;

• research to discover new technology and to further develop older technology;

• improved methods of integrating the various modalities, especially in highly populated areas – such as adding sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and bus lanes to highways and more railroad crossing gates at busy intersections;

• safety awareness campaigns to make the general population more safety conscious;

• more conformity and better enforcement of laws and regulations that were designed to improve safer use of each type of transportation mode; and

• improved, safer vehicles.

Manufacturers of various vehicles constantly work toward building safer, more efficient vehicles. Many colleges, universities, and private organizations are working to create and develop the necessary technology. And as of July 6, 2012, the federal government has enacted the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century law. Known as MAP-21, this law provides essential funding and alters the previous policy and programmatic framework for investments in the country’s transportation infrastructure. MAP-21 addresses the challenges of improving safety, maintaining infrastructures, reducing traffic congestion, increasing efficiency of the system, and protecting the environment. Additionally, all state governments are supposed to initiate their own programs in 2013 and 2014 to help increase the safety and efficiency of all modes of transportation.


J.P. Hartley is a freelance legal writer who specializes in Auto Accidents, Constitutional Law, the U.S. Tax Code, Real Estate Law, Personal Injury and other areas as well.




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