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London’s Congestion Pricing Plan Is Saving Lives

By charging $17.34 for a trip downtown during peak hours, London has reduced traffic fatalities by 40 percent

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smithsonian.com

When London began charging motorists to drive downtown in 2003, its plan to reduce pollution and traffic spurred predictions of "chaos and blood on the streets"—even accusations that the plan was a "breach of residents’ human rights." Twelve years later, CityLab reports, far from causing wanto destruction, the plan has had an unexpected benefit—a sharp decline in traffic collisions and fatalities.

According to a new study released by Britain’s Royal Economic Society, the congestion charge has not only changed the ways in which people travel in Central London but has also reduced the probability that Londoners will get in an accident. Researchers found a “substantial reduction” in the number of accidents in London itself, and when they compared London data with that of 20 other U.K. cities, they also found a 40 percent drop in accidents per mile driven through the congestion zone. And the Guardian notes that the reduction in accidents extends beyond the zone’s hours and physical boundaries.

“There’s a big drop in flows, but there’s an even bigger drop in accidents,” Colin Green, the study’s lead author, told CityLab. “There’s just less cars to hit each other.” Though earlier studies showed that London collisions were on the decline, they didn’t put the findings in context—which makes sense given that the congestion zone’s goal was to reduce pollution and traffic, not accidents.

The reduction in accidents does come at a cost—$17.34 for the privilege of driving through London’s busy downtown during congestion zone hours. But now that it’s been demonstrated to save lives, the concept could gain steam in the United States, too. The statistics could be used to fuel support for a New York traffic congestion plan, which is gaining new life. And given a new push to reduce traffic fatalities nationwide, it might just be a matter of time before you, too, pay to drive during rush hour.

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