The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released an update on its National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) on October 14, and shared a new online dashboard that allows stakeholders and the general public to track the Department’s progress on commitments made as part of the NRSS. The update comes as U.S. traffic fatalities are at a 16-year high and pedestrian fatalities are up 13% on 2020 alone.
The NRSS lays out a roadmap for addressing the national crisis in roadway fatalities and serious injuries. Almost 95 percent of the Nation’s transportation deaths occur on its streets, roads, and highways. While the number of annual roadway fatalities declined for many years, progress plateaued over the last decade and now, alarmingly, fatalities have risen during the pandemic. The NRSS provides concrete steps that the Department is taking to address this crisis systemically and prevent these tragic and avoidable deaths and serious injuries. Bolstered by historic funding included in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the NRSS is the first step in working toward an ambitious long-term goal of reaching zero roadway fatalities.
“At a time when it is safer to fly across the country than it is to walk across town, we must all act to address the crisis on our nation’s roadways,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “With new resources from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are taking critical steps to save lives on our roadways.”
Since the release of the first NRSS in January 2022 DOT issued a call for applications for $1 billion in roadway safety funding for regional, Tribal, and local governments through the new Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program. The deadline for applications was September 15 and the Department received over 700 applications from all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
The Department has also adopted a Safe Systems Approach this year, which provides a framework to proactively create a safer transportation system and lower risks for people by building multiple layers of protection through safer roads, safer people, safer vehicles, safer speeds, and better post-crash care.
The Department’s components are also working to improve safety. The Federal Highway Administration submitted a Complete Streets report to Congress earlier this year, and encourages States and communities to adopt and implement Complete Streets policies that prioritize the safety of all users in transportation network planning, design, construction and operations. Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has enhanced safety monitoring of new technologies in motor vehicles through a Standing General Order on crash reporting. NHTSA has also issued a request for comment on the 5 Star Safety Rating Program (NCAP), proposing to add four more technologies to the ratings including: blind spot detection, blind spot intervention, lane keeping support, and pedestrian automatic emergency braking.
As a result of effective safety interventions and adoption of new technologies, traffic fatalities had been on the decline in the U.S. But progress has stalled in the last decade, and during the first two years of the pandemic moved in the wrong direction. Recent data released by NHTSA projects that an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020. The projection is the highest number of fatalities since 2005 and the largest annual percentage increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history. Behind each of these numbers is a life tragically lost, and a family left behind.
The Department’s NRSS gives the nation a framework to address the roadway safety crisis. It includes specific actions that DOT is taking and also acknowledges that no one level of government or sector can address this crisis alone. As part of the strategy, the Department calls on government at all levels, law enforcement, industry, non-profit and advocacy organizations, researchers, and individuals themselves to do their part to implement the Safe System Approach, to make U.S. roadways safer and work towards a future where no one dies in a traffic crash.
This October marks National Pedestrian Safety Month, and this along with the latest accident data, makes Buttigieg’s announcement all the more timely. Support is particularly in need for minority populations. Black and Native American pedestrians are disproportionately killed in road fatalities in the United States, as compared to white pedestrians. People who are American Indian and Alaska Native are almost three times more likely to die walking than the general public average, on a per 100,000 person basis. People who are Black or African American are more than 50% more likely to die walking than the general public average, on a per 100,000 person basis.
Targeted efforts are also needed to protect the younger members of society. To this end, NHTSA recently launched a new paid media campaign running from October 10-31 to educate drivers about the dangers of illegally passing stopped school buses and pedestrian safety for children when boarding and leaving a school bus. Every State and the District of Columbia have laws requiring drivers to stop when a school bus stop arm is extended, because the greatest risk to a child isn’t riding a school bus but boarding or leaving one. From 2010 to 2019, there were 1.6 times more fatalities among pedestrians than occupants of school transportation vehicles. In the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services’ 2019 Stop Arm survey, 130,963 school bus drivers reported that 95,319 vehicles passed their buses illegally on a single day. Throughout a 180-day school year, these sample results point to more than 17 million violations among America’s driving public.