Jan 28, 2022
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has unveiled a federal strategy aimed at improving traffic safety on a national scale. Facing what is expected to be a substantial increase in traffic fatalities for the 2021 calendar year, the Department of Transportation (DOT) released a 42-page plan intended to help eliminate traffic fatalities by reducing speed, redesigning roadways, and improving car-safety features such as automatic emergency braking, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
Secretary Buttigieg told the Associated Press (AP) in an interview that new federal data will be released next week indicating what he expects to be another increase in traffic fatalities through the third quarter of last year. 2021’s first-half of the year death toll from motor vehicle accidents was estimated at 20,160 – the highest six month figure since 2006.
“It doesn’t look good, and I continue to be extremely concerned about the trend,” Buttigieg said to the AP Thursday.
RollCall.com reported that the ambitious plan was described as a “paradigm shift” by one DOT official. The strategy comes following what RollCall.com referred to as a “sobering statistic” related to increased traffic fatalities despite few cars on the road during the pandemic.
Although far less drivers took to the roads in 2020, traffic fatalities spiked considerably, with some 38,680 people dying in motor vehicle crashes that year, according to data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The 2020 figure represents the highest number since 2007 and a 7.2% increase over the 2019 level of 36,096 fatalities.
“Somehow it has become over the years and decades as normal, sort of the cost of doing business,” Buttigieg said. “Even through a pandemic that led to considerably less driving, we continue to see more danger on our roads.”
Buttigieg indicated that over the next two years his department will provide guidance and $5 billion in grants to states in an effort to reduce speed limits and embrace safer road designs. Such improved safety design initiatives will include dedicated bike and bus lanes, better lighting, and crosswalks, according to a report from KTLA.
“Today we commit that our goal is this: zero. Our goal is zero [traffic] deaths,” Buttigieg said Thursday in announcing the national road safety strategy.
“The decision to commit to that goal in a serious way at a national level changes the way cities and towns design roads, changes the way companies build cars, changes the way people drive.”
Buttigieg’s plan to reduce traffic-related deaths to zero is aligned with the Vision Zero programs in various major cities throughout the nation, including here in Los Angles. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the city’s Vision Zero program in 2015. But like overall the national average, Los Angeles saw an uptick in car accident injuries and fatalities during 2021.
According to Vision Zero, more than 40,000 people are killed annually on American streets, with thousands more injured every year.
“For too long, we’ve considered traffic deaths and severe injuries to be inevitable side effects of modern life. While often referred to as ‘accidents,’ the reality is that we can prevent these tragedies by taking a proactive, preventative approach that prioritizes traffic safety as a public health issue,” the Vision Zero website states.
The Vision Zero strategy aims to create a shift from the traditional approach to traffic fatalities. According to the program’s website, the current or “traditional” approach to roadway safety is fraught with multiple limitations:
In contrast, Vision Zero’s strategy aims to create the aforementioned paradigm shift through:
Vision Zero claims to provide a “departure from the status quo” through its proposed strategy by emphasizing two major changes to national roadway safety:
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