abdallahh/Flickr

You’re three times more likely to get hurt driving a car than taking the bus, say researchers.

It might be impossible to avoid all bumps, scratches, and bone-jarring accidents while traversing the big city, but your chances of arriving unscathed are better when you ride the bus rather than drive a car.

That’s the conclusion of researchers studying injuries along major traffic corridors in Montreal. By perusing police reports from 2001 to 2010, they found motorists on these routes had more than three times the injury rate of bus passengers. Buses were also safer for people sharing the road. Cars were responsible for 95 percent of pedestrian and 96 percent of cyclist injuries on these arteries, they write in a presentation for this month’s meeting of the Transportation Research Board.

During the same time period in Montreal, nobody was killed while riding the bus, though 668 people were injured. (It’s unknown if that number includes bus operators, who are powerful magnets for abuse.) Meanwhile, auto occupants suffered 19 deaths and 10,892 injuries. Cars were linked to 42 pedestrian and three cyclist deaths, while buses were linked to four and zero, respectively.

Density of injuries linked to public buses in Montreal from 2001 to 2010. (Morency et al./Transportation Research Board)

The researchers don’t drill down into the hows and whys of these discrepancies. But their work backs up, on the city level, what’s been known for some time on the macro scale. In the United States car occupants have a fatality rate 23 times greater than bus passengers, while it’s respectively 11 and 10 times higher in Australia and Europe. They suggest getting more people on public transit could make a large impact on public health. Here’s more from their full presentation:

We estimated that a 50% modal shift from car toward bus would prevent 35% of all injuries and 38% of severe injuries. The benefits may be underestimated, because we did not take into account the effect of having fewer vehicles on the road, the risk reduction—for all road users—associated with a reduction in traffic volume. However, the benefits may also be overestimated, because a modal shift towards public transit would likely increase the number of pedestrians and which is associated with an increase in pedestrian casualties or in the overall number of road casualties. It is worth mentioning that in Canada’s large metropolitan areas, transit access points are concentrated at intersections of wide major roads with the greatest rate of crashes and pedestrian injuries. To offset an increase in pedestrian exposure to crashes, a large reduction in traffic volume and the area-wide implementation of traffic calming measures and safer pedestrian crossings might be needed.

About the Author

John Metcalfe
John Metcalfe

John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.

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