Japan Is Much Saner Than The U.S. About Traffic Safety
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“Vision Zero” is the derisible name chosen for the currently most fashionable push to reduce traffic fatalities in cities: the Oprahesque idea is that if we collectively envision having zero traffic deaths, we will get there. In contrast, Japan puts out sensible plans periodically for reducing traffic deaths several percent per year, and often exceeds its reasonable goals.

As far as I can tell, nobody in traffic safety establishment has dared publicly mention the tradeoff between reducing mayhem on the pavement and pulling blacks over for unsafe driving less. From Streets Blog:

Studies conducted in Minneapolis found stark disparities in traffic law enforcement for Black bicyclists and motorists. Though they make up only 18 percent of Minneapolis residents, data from 2019 showed that Black and African-American residents received 70 percent of vehicle searches and 68 percent of body searches at traffic stops.

For example, here are the last two Vision Zero annual reports from Minneapolis, the epicenter of the Racial Reckoning:

From 2021:



Vision Zero is the City’s initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and severe injuries on our streets. The City’s first Vision Zero Action Plan was adopted in December 2019 and outlines key steps to make progress toward that goal from 2020-2022. Vision Zero is a collaboration of 11 City departments and includes essential partnership with community members and external agencies. Additional information on Vision Zero is available at: www.visionzerompls.com.

In 2020, our city and world were dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd in police custody. These events have had prolonged impacts for the City’s Vision Zero work even beyond initial stay at home orders and May’s civil unrest. COVID-19 led to significant reductions in travel and traffic across Minneapolis and the state. Those reductions began in March and continued throughout 2020. Reductions were most pronounced in downtown. With travel and traffic down, total crashes in Minneapolis were 39% lower in 2020 than recent years and severe crashes were down 21%. Bicycle and pedestrian crashes were lower than any point since at least 1990 and 49% lower than average of recent years. However, there were more total fatal crashes than any year since 2013. At least 70% of fatal crashes involved high speeds—mirroring trends across Minnesota and the country where the frequency of excessive speeding and reckless driving has increased. 60% of fatal crashes in 2020 happened in the Northside (i.e., the black side), which is a significant increase from recent years and adds trauma in the community [i.e., “the community” can only be “the black community].

The killing of George Floyd has spurred citywide and nationwide conversations around reimagining public safety. The City is seeking to create a public safety system that keeps every member of our community safe. The City’s engagement and research efforts focus on alternatives to police response, violence prevention, and police policy reform. Traffic enforcement will potentially be impacted by these broader public safety conversations. We are working to eliminate the disproportionate impacts of traffic crashes on Black and indigenous community members and to eliminate racial disparities in traffic stops. Everyone should be safe traveling on our streets.

And from 2022:



24 people tragically died in traffic crashes on streets in Minneapolis in 2021. This was the highest number of traffic deaths in Minneapolis since 2007 and more than double the average number over the last decade. This unfortunately mirrors a similar trend around the state and country. This death toll on our streets is devastating and unacceptable. The increase in traffic deaths is hitting neighborhoods with lower incomes the hardest. 65% of fatal crashes were in Areas of Concentrated Poverty where a majority of residents are people of color (ACP50s) while those areas have 28% of the population and 24% of streets. North Minneapolis (11 fatal crashes) and the Phillips neighborhood (4 fatal crashes) were especially impacted in 2021. A rise in very reckless driving is contributing to the increased traffic deaths. In 2021, about 80% of fatal crashes included very reckless driving–a huge increase from 2019 when about 30% of fatal crashes included very reckless driving.

[We define very reckless driving as a fatal hit and run crash or combining two of the most unsafe activities (high speeding, running a red light or stop sign, driving under the influence, driving off the road, and distracted driving).]

We are considering actions we can take to address the rise in reckless driving in an effective and equitable way. This a complex challenge with a lot of factors and no easy solution, but we need to address it to reach Vision Zero.

I.e., ever since George Floyd’s death and the ensuing Mostly Peaceful Protests against cops, bad black drivers have been running amok on the streets of Minneapolis, getting themselves and the innocent killed. But we are stumped. If we even came out and explained why that happened, our careers as professional Nice White People would be toast.

In contrast, from Bloomberg:

How Japan Won its ‘Traffic War’

Until the early 1970s, Japan endured a high rate of road fatalities. Now the nation boasts one of the world’s best traffic safety records. Here’s why.

By David Zipper
September 6, 2022

In mid-August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that the surge in American traffic deaths is continuing: An estimated 9,560 people died on US roadways in the first quarter of 2022, 7% more than a year ago and the highest first quarter total in two decades.

The traffic safety slide is a trend that precedes Covid-19, but the disruptions of the pandemic seemed to exacerbate the issue in the US, a phenomenon that observers like New York Times’ David Leonhardt have attributed to mental health issues and smartphone use: “Many Americans have felt frustrated or unhappy, and it seems to have affected their driving,” he wrote recently, adding in a tweet that “traffic deaths began to rise around 2015…around the same time that smartphones became ubiquitous.”

One thing that happened in 2015 during the Ferguson Effect was a historic switchover from whites dying on the roads more per capita to blacks dying more. When BLM returned as a national obsession in June 2020, the Floyd Effect caused blacks to suddenly die massively more than whites:

If stress and cell phones are causing this crisis, it’s curious why so many other countries have avoided it.

Similarly, if COVID caused the American homicide surge in 2020, why didn’t the same thing happen abroad?

Almost all developed nations have seen a decline in roadway deaths over the last decade, while the US has endured a 30% rise. As I wrote recently in CityLab, an American is now about 2.5 times as likely as a Canadian to die in a crash and three times as likely as a French citizen.

… Fewer than 3,000 people died in Japanese crashes in 2021, compared to almost 43,000 in the United States. On a per capita basis, Japan had just 2.24 deaths per 100,000 residents, less than a fifth the US rate of 12.7 per 100,000.

Japan is a much smaller country, so Japanese don’t drive as much as Americans. On the other hand, as a mountainous yet urbanized place, it’s inherently trickier to drive around than Kansas.

And Japanese roads are getting even safer: 2021 saw the fewest road fatalities of any year since record-keeping began in 1948. It’s quite a change from the 1960s, when a booming economy and millions of inexperienced drivers contributed to annual fatality figures six times higher than they are today. …

Japan is now a traffic safety success story—especially when compared to the US. Here are a few lessons from the island nation that could resonate outside its borders.

Save lives with rail …

On a per capita basis, Japanese own 61 cars per 100 residents, compared to 84 per 100 Americans, and the average resident drives only about a third as much per year.

Of course, highly dense Japan is a better place for rail than road transit than is America.

Say no to street parking

Many Japanese neighborhoods lack something ubiquitous in North American cities: on-street parking.

In Japan, automobile owners must obtain a shako shomei sho, or “garage certificate,” showing that they have secured a place to store the vehicle overnight at their residence or in a parking garage; leaving it streetside is not an option.

In American Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY) circles, the opposite is fashionable: let everybody build without providing parking places on site.

Make room for the minicar …

Build cities safe for children

Research supports the oft-cited claim that Japanese citizens tend to prioritize the collective good over the individual. Applied to road safety, that orientation might help explain why Japanese road safety education campaigns seem to reduce crashes there, despite being generally ineffective in the US.

Culture could also play a role in the frequency with which young Japanese children travel independently, something that Netflix recently shared with a global audience through the show “Old Enough!”, in which children as young as two face challenges like walking to a market—and crossing a five-lane road—on their own. As Slate’s Henry Grabar recently wrote, “If the show were set in the United States, the parents would be under investigation by child protective services, and the children in foster care.”

But culture alone doesn’t explain why Japanese children walk to school or to run errands far more often than their US peers—infrastructure and regulations play an enormous role. …

In the US, some 41% of children walked or biked to school in 1969, but that figure dwindled to 13% by 2001.

I know a woman who walked to school as a first-grader in the 1960s in Chicago, but then stopped due to the sudden surge in muggings.

With a dearth of sidewalks and protected bike lanes and a preponderance of fast arterials, neighborhoods in many US cities and suburbs have been transformed into dangerous places for any child who isn’t inside a car.

Also, street crime played a huge role in emptying out children from dense American cities. Japan doesn’t have street crime to speak of.

Indeed, these kinds of streets are dangerous not just for children, but for Americans of all ages. As Jeffrey Tumlin, the head of San Francisco MTA, once tweeted, “I’m a childless man, and the city I’d most like to live in is one designed by women for the benefit of children.” Such a place would be much safer—and probably more fun as well.

In fact, it might feel quite a bit like traveling in Japan.

The best thing, infrastructure-wise, that America did for mothers with children in carriages was building a lot of ramps in the 1990s that let them more easily get over curbs and staircases without waking the baby. Of course, we didn’t do it for mothers with babies—they are not Officially Marginalized Persons, so who cares about mothers with babies—we did it in the name of Rights of the Disabled.

[Comment at Unz.com]


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