In our cities today, we see too many reckless drivers that lack car insurance, do not possess a valid driver’s license, and/or drive with expired registration. Illegal driving with no consequences needs to end. Design strategies, such as complete streets, road diets, curb extensions, and other traffic calming elements help to create bike and pedestrian safe main streets. But funds used toward better designed streets will fall short if the damage to the streetscape outweighs the intention to create more walkable, bikeable, and healthy streets. Collaboration with local law enforcement and educational programs for motorists are key to success. Legislation and programs to assist with insurance are the key to success for safer and calmer streets that promote healthy communities and foster economic development and stop reckless driving.
For instance, in the past 10 years along South Grand Blvd. (STL, MO) we have incurred over $70,000 in damages from reckless drivers, within 6 blocks. Of these incidents, 90% of motorists did not have car insurance or possess a valid driver’s license. We need legislative action to remove illegal drivers from the street and enforce penalties for driving illegally.
Since the time I started writing this article we had two fatalities one of which within the South Grand Business District and cyclist just outside our boundaries. An estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020 and the highest rate since 2005, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation.
Also, I learned trucks’ and SUVs’ added weight may be particularly dangerous to pedestrians, more lethal to pedestrians than smaller cars and substantially more likely to hit pedestrians when making turns, according to studies from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The pedestrian who was killed on South Grand was struck and killed, while crossing within a marked crosswalk by a person driving an SUV. The cyclist was the victim of a hit and run crash, in which the person driving the sedan was illegally driving a car that did not have proper registration with expired temporary tags.
The increased number of crashes especially along main streets will deter visitors from frequenting these places, as well as employees who are not interested in working in these locations out of a concern for their safety. The domino effect of careless drivers can impact the livelihood of small businesses. For instance, potential new businesses to a main street are looking not just at the traffic volume, wealth, and large employers nearby, also at vehicular crashes and overall safety of the location.
Legislation at the state and local level is needed to hold drivers accountable. For instance, in 2007, Ontario introduced new legislation that made driving more than 50 kilometers an hour (31 mph) over the speed limit a serious offense, punishable by an immediate license suspension, car impoundment, and heavy fine or jail time.
Also, in the United Kingdom motorists are fined $355 for not having insurance and, six penalty points on their license for driving without insurance. Penalty for not having an MOT test (Ministry of transportation test which is like our safety and omissions) and fined up to $1185 for driving without a valid MOT. If you are found driving a vehicle that the MOT deemed dangerous the fine is $3000 and 3 penalty points. If you are found to be driving without insurance (crash, speeding incident etc.) your vehicle could be seized, clamped, or destroyed and you may end up in court. Your vehicle can be towed for not paying taxes, having a license or for not passing the safety test. Any one of these can result in a tow. Once impounded, the vehicle can be released after a fine is paid and legal documents provided. The vehicle can be sold if they don’t claim it.
What can we be doing in the United States besides creating high fines for reckless driving and not having a valid driver’s license or car insurance? Programs in other countries demonstrate this is a cultural shift that we need to take seriously now to curb very avoidable deaths. To start, social service programs should be created to help those who do not have the funds to purchase car insurance. Nonprofits can provide grants for the first year to help those in poverty. Their vehicle is an asset to assist with getting to their employer. Instead of taking their means of income away from them, provide financial assistance, which in the end benefits everyone. We can also promote better land use policy and transportation planning to work on building environments in which individuals do not need to own a car to gain economic prosperity.
Also, in every state it should be a requirement to have driver’s education. In the state of Missouri, it is not required. Also, every state should have campaigns about safe driving with billboards and PSAs.
To move forward, we all need to be held accountable. By allowing reckless driving and a general disregard for obeying the rules of the road, we will harm our communities. If vehicular crashes and safety of a place outweigh all the benefits of a main street, these places will no longer be destinations to live, work and play. In addition to better designs standards, communities need better coordination with local law enforcement, local and state legislation to hold drivers accountable, and social service and educational programs to make streets safer and foster vibrant places.