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Study: Riding public transit like LIRR may curb car deaths

People wait for trains at the Bethpage LIRR

People wait for trains at the Bethpage LIRR station, June 21, 2016. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

One of the most powerful tools in reducing the number of car deaths on Long Island may be an LIRR ticket, a new report suggests.

According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) report, “The Hidden Traffic Safety Solution: Public Transportation,” a person can reduce the risk of being involved in an accident by 90 percent by choosing to travel by transit rather than by car. The study, prepared by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, a Canadian research group, said that, per mile, public transportation is 10 times safer than traveling by automobile.

APTA Chief Executive Officer Richard White said the report provides another reason why commuters, including those on Long Island, should consider leaving their cars in the driveway.

“Your odds are much higher that you’re going to have a very safe end-to-end trip,” White said. “I would say that, to the Long Island Rail Road riders and to people living in the Long Island community, it’s your best bet day-in and day-out.”

According to the report, cities in which residents average more than 50 transit trips a year have about half the average traffic fatality rates as where residents average fewer than 20 annual transit trips.

Organizers said the report is especially relevant given that the 2015 traffic fatality rate in the United States was the highest in nearly a half-century. More than 35,000 people died in car accidents last year, an increase of 7.2 percent from the previous year.

T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, vice chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the rise in car-accident deaths — after an all-time low of about 32,000 in 2011 — is, in part, due to an increase in distracted driving.

An LIRR passenger has not died in a train accident since 1950, when two train crashes in Rockville Centre and Kew Gardens killed more than 100 riders. The accidents led to the installation of automatic speed control technology, which the LIRR still uses today.

LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan said the railroad continues to look for ways to improve passenger safety, including through a $1 billion effort to install new crash prevention technology by 2018, and by eliminating and modifying some grade crossings in Nassau as part of a plan to build a third track on the Main Line.

“The safety of all LIRR customers, employees and the general public is our top priority,” Donovan said. “While statistically traveling by train is safer than traveling by car, we are always working to improve safety on the rails.”


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