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Brief

The U.S. transportation system has been shaped by multiple policy inputs and concrete actions which have arisen from transportation and community planners, funding agencies and others at Federal, state and local levels. Today, the system is designed to move people and goods efficiently; however, there is a growing awareness across communities that transportation systems impact quality of life and health. Government and non-government agencies are seeking innovative policies and programs that protect and promote health while accomplishing the primary transportation objectives.

The Opportunity


Two women push strollers along a busy pedestrian sidewalk in East Lansing, MI.Expanding the availability of, safety for, and access to a variety of transportation options and integrating health-enhancing choices into transportation policy has the potential to save lives by preventing chronic diseases, reducing and preventing motor-vehicle-related injury and deaths, improving environmental health, while stimulating economic development, and ensuring access for all people.

With this goal in mind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified transportation policies that can have profound positive impact on health. CDC supports strategies that can provide a balanced portfolio of transportation choices that supports health and reduces health care costs. Transportation policy can:

  • Reduce injuries associated with motor vehicle crashes
  • Encourage healthy community design
  • Promote safe and convenient opportunities for physical activity by supporting active transportation infrastructure
  • Reduce human exposure to air pollution and adverse health impacts associated with these pollutants
  • Ensure that all people have access to safe, healthy, convenient, and affordable transportation

Rationale


Man drawing line graph slanting upwards on a chalk board.The current U.S. transportation infrastructure focuses on motor vehicle travel and provides limited support for other transportation options for most Americans.

  • Physical activity and active transportation have declined compared to previous generations. The lack of physical activity is a major contributor to the steady rise in rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic health conditions in the United States.
  • Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of injury-related death for many age groups. Pedestrians and bicyclists are at an even greater risk of death from crashes than those who travel by motor vehicles.
  • Many Americans view walking and bicycling within their communities as unsafe because of traffic and the lack of sidewalks, crosswalks, and bicycle facilities.
  • Although using public transportation has historically been safer than highway travel in light duty vehicles, highway travel has grown more quickly than other modes of travel.
  • A lack of efficient alternatives to automobile travel disproportionately affects vulnerable populations such as the poor, the elderly, people who have disabilities and children by limiting access to jobs, health care, social interaction, and healthy foods.
  • Although motor vehicle emissions have decreased significantly over the past three decades, air pollution from motor vehicles continues to contribute to the degradation of our environment and adverse respiratory and cardiovascular health effects.
  • Transportation accounts for approximately one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.

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Recommendations


Mother and daughter crossing street in crosswalkThe CDC Recommendations for Improving Health through Transportation Policy gives specific recommendations for including the consideration of public health within transportation issues. Key high-level areas include:

  • Reduce injuries associated with motor vehicle crashes
  • Improve air quality
  • Expand public transportation
  • Promote active transportation
  • Encourage healthy community design
  • Design to minimize adverse health and safety consequences
  • Require research and surveillance
  • Support professional development and job creation


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