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Road tolling reduces number of fatal crashes: UK research

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – As we get set to vote on transportation funding in Metro Vancouver, there have been a lot of arguments over how to best tackle traffic congestion.  But new research out of London is suggesting that city’s aggressive road pricing program is actually saving lives — a lot of them.

A study out of Lancaster University shows a surprising drop in the accident rate — including fatal crashes — in Downtown London since the city started charging drivers more than $17 to access the area in 2003.

Over the past 12 years, the results of the tolling have been fairly predictable with congestion easing, pollution levels dropping, and traffic speeding up as more people walk, cycle and get on improved transit.  But up until now, no one has studied the effect on traffic fatalities and injuries.

“It’s maybe not surprising the number of accidents went down with less cars on the road, but the rate of accidents went down far beyond that,” says study co-author Professor Collin Green.

“Essentially, one of the ideas of a congestion charge is to not just get cars off the road, but to reduce the effect that each individual driver imposes upon society. So by getting things moving and decreasing the amount of traffic, the probability of two cars hitting each other or a car hitting a bike has declined.”

However, that’s not something the researchers presupposed.  If you speed up traffic and add more pedestrians and cyclists to the mix, some thought there was the potential for more fatal accidents.

Professor Green suggests that’s why the results may have caught some people off guard.  “Sure, I mean the overall reduction in the accident rate of around 40 percent is huge … even severe accidents and fatalities went down.”

Perhaps another surprising finding was that London’s downtown toll also reduced accidents beyond the congestion zone and outside the times when it is levied by more broadly changing the behaviour of drivers and increasing transit ridership.