Effects of Road Collisions on the Travel Behavior of Vulnerable Groups: Expert Interview Findings

Research Team: Prashanth Venkataram (lead), Jesus Barajas, Musfiqur Rahman Bhuiya, and Dan Sperling

UC Campus(es): UC Davis

Problem Statement: The last five years in California have seen annual averages of over 3,800 fatalities, nearly 15,900 serious (but not fatal) injuries, and over 233,100 minor injuries from vehicular collisions. These collisions disproportionately occur in marginalized neighborhoods and victimize people from socioeconomically marginalized groups, including people with disabilities. Despite the physical injuries and mental traumas that collisions can inflict upon victims, loved ones, emergency responders, and even otherwise unrelated bystanders, little is known about the effects of collisions on their travel behavior, such as frequency of travel and mode choices. Hypothetically, decreases in travel frequency could significantly harm socioeconomic equity, as victims or loved ones who travel less may participate less in the economy as workers or consumers, and these effects may be amplified for people with disabilities, who already face disadvantages with respect to access and mobility. Additionally, changes in mode choices, especially away from public or active transportation toward private vehicular transportation, may undercut Caltrans’s connected goals for road safety, equity, and greenhouse gas emission reduction in the California Transportation Plan 2050, Caltrans 2020-2024 Strategic Plan, and California 2020-2024 Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

Project Description: The research team interviewed eight subject-matter experts in California in 2023 to understand how travel behavior and priorities may change in response to direct experience with road collisions. Experts represented a variety of perspectives, including medical doctors, advocates for active transportation safety, and advocates for people with disabilities. These experts identified common themes, including mental stress from the prospect of returning to driving—especially on freeways, lesser incidence of long-term changes in travel modes after experiencing a collision, dependence on others for rides in private vehicles, and changing routes or times of day of travel when traveling independently. These experts also explained how people’s mode choices are also affected by general concerns about collisions in the news more than by specific personal experiences with near misses. Interview subjects spoke of more specific concerns as well, including but not limited to, bicyclists using sidewalks instead of bike lanes when both are present, feeling stigmatized from using public transit or paratransit after experiencing a collision, and concerns with motorists treating bicyclists badly. These initial interviews clarify areas of focus and methodology for future qualitative and quantitative studies on the intersection of transportation safety and travel behavior change, particularly as they involve people who have directly experienced road collisions.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $25,000