Chart of the Day: Comparing Bus and Vehicle Fatality Rates on Urban Streets


Today’s chart of the day shows total fatality rates per vehicle mile (not passenger trip or mile as I detailed here) for urban transit buses and passenger vehicles. It uses fatality data from the 2011 National Transit Database and NHTSA Safety reports. The main difference here is that it compares passenger vehicle travel done only on roads and streets that urban buses typically run on (where pedestrians, cyclists, etc are common). The FHWA breaks down vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on different road types (freeways, major/minor arterials, local streets, etc) within different areas of population (urban or rural).

This is important because interstates and other grade-separated freeways carry a large share of VMT (just over 55%), yet non-occupants like pedestrians and bicyclists are almost never present the way they are for buses. As you can see, an urban bus is far more likely to kill a pedestrian per vehicle mile (ignoring how many passengers are in it) than a passenger car.

Background: this comes from a Twitter conversation about appropriate vehicle speeds on urban streets in Minnesota. An obscure state statute allows a municipality (or county) that controls a street with bike lanes to reduce the speed limit to 25 miles per hour (which is shown to improve visual field and therefore reaction times, while rendering the collisions that do occur safer).

The issue of whether buses should be exempt from speed limit reductions like this came up. If you follow national safety policies, you have probably seen the fight raging on between the NYC transit workers union and NYC Vision Zero policies. While I have a great deal of respect for bus drivers (and light rail operators), I also believe we need smart policies that improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. What programs have been implemented across the world to make heavy buses with blind spots safer for all users of our streets?


Alex Cecchini

About Alex Cecchini

Alex likes cities. He lives with his wife, two kids, and two poorly behaved dogs just south of Uptown (Minneapolis). Tweets found here: @alexcecchini and occasional personal blog posts at