Objective: Previous research suggests that urban sprawl increases auto-dependency and that excessive auto use increases the risk of traffic fatalities. This indirect effect of urban sprawl on traffic fatalities is compared to non-vehicle miles traveled (VMT)-related direct effect of sprawl on fatalities.
Methods: We conducted a path analysis to examine the causal linkages among urban sprawl, VMT, traffic fatalities, income, and fuel cost. The path diagram includes 2 major linkages: the direct relationship between urban sprawl and traffic fatalities and the indirect effect on fatalities through increased VMT in sprawling urban areas. To measure the relative strength of these causal linkages, path coefficients are estimated using data collected nationally from 147 urbanized areas in the United States.
Results: Through both direct and indirect paths, urban sprawl is associated with greater numbers of traffic fatalities, but the direct effect of sprawl on fatalities is more influential than the indirect effect.
Conclusions: Enhancing traffic safety can be achieved by impeding urban sprawl and encouraging compact development. On the other hand, policy tools reducing VMT may be less effective than anticipated for traffic safety.