Safe Streets

Cutting pedestrian accidents on urban roads

many councils are now introducing 20mph limits

The emphasis in road safety is slowly shifting towards cutting deaths on rural roads, but urban roads are still where most accidents involving injury happen.

The age and design of an urban road can have a major bearing on its safety and the likelihood of accidents – particularly pedestrian accidents.

The AA Foundation for Road Safety Research studied pedestrian casualties in the 1990s and looked at how they were affected by the type of road, and by the age and style of adjacent housing.

The study considered accidents per mile walked by a road or per crossing of that road and also looked at accidents per head of population.

Major or minor road

Around half of all pedestrian accidents happen on the more major urban roads.

Teenagers, people in their early 20s and people over 65 are particularly prone to accidents on these roads.

It is likely that children are not involved because they are not allowed near such roads, while the more middle-aged probably choose to drive rather than to walk.

The risk to older pedestrians is important – these may be people who can't avoid crossing a busy major road to live their lives, but whose age means they are not well equipped to 'nip' between traffic or to survive being hit by a car.

Many pedestrian crossings on major urban roads are there to cater for the elderly – rather than children.

The next busiest roads – the 'local distributors', which handle traffic movement within localities of the town are the next most dangerous and are more hazardous to children and early teenagers – probably because these are the most dangerous roads that they regularly cross.

The age of a residential area

The age of an area counts for much too. If you look at style of housing, the safest road can be four times as safe as the least safe.

The age of a housing development plays a key role, as does the type of development.

One of the great challenges in road safety is that deprived areas have the worst accident risk, yet often are least likely to campaign for road improvements, speed limits or traffic calming.

Newer is safer

Not surprisingly the safest roads are the most modern, and generally those where many cul-de-sacs branch off a distributor road. The fact that the cul-de-sacs are short, often have bends and are only used by those that live in them mean that traffic speeds are slow. Drivers also feel a responsibility to their neighbours.

Older areas

Older housing and street design poses the real problem.

Between-the-wars and immediate post war council housing areas are some of the most dangerous in Britain for pedestrians. These often combine the problems of relative deprivation and road design that's not suited to high rates of car use.

Car ownership by residents was not anticipated by the designers, so houses didn't have garages or drives. Roads were built straight and wide, often with verges, leaving us today with roads that invite drivers to go fast, yet are often lined with parked cars, many on the verges or in parking areas built where the verges were.

Pedestrians crossing between parked cars cannot see oncoming cars, and drivers can't see them.

Posher is safer

Older areas of private housing are safer than council housing of the same era, though not as safe as more modern areas.

Often this is because the roads are through-routes, and may be wide and look fast.

Additionally houses may still not have the garages or parking spaces to take all their cars so some will often have to be parked on the road.

The pedestrian hazards of parked cars play a role again here.

Making areas safer

Early attempts at cutting accidents on urban roads often involved closing roads to stop through traffic and to slow down that which remained by making it take a more circuitous route.

In more recent years traffic calming and innovative ways of making people drive slower have been brought into areas with bad pedestrian accident records.

Now many councils are introducing 20 mph limits – and many of these are on the residential streets that fall into the more dangerous categories.

Recently an AA Populus Panel survey showed that 54 per cent of members agree that 20 mph limits are a good way to reduce pedestrian casualties. Thirty-two per cent disagreed.

Join the discussion in the AA zone


2 June 2009