U.S. DOT Doubles Down on Road Safety
By: Noa Banayan, PeopleForBikes’ director of federal affairs
Transportation Secretary Buttigieg calls for zero road deaths with new National Road Safety Strategy.
The tragedy of U.S. roadways plays out every day. Traffic-induced deaths for Americans biking and walking are at their highest since 1990, moving in the wrong, opposite direction from all other developed nations making progress on road safety. This epidemic has considerable consequences for bicycling — for people that bike, the ever-present threat of being hit, and for those who choose not to bike due to a lack of safe infrastructure to protect them from vehicles.
To combat this growing crisis, Secretary Buttigieg and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will carry out the new National Road Safety Strategy (NRSS). Announced January 27, 2022, the NRSS offers a paradigm-shifting path forward for American roadways with a goal of zero traffic deaths. At the core of this strategy is a “safe-systems” approach, intended to “design a redundant system to protect everyone by preventing crashes and ensuring that if they do occur, they do not result in serious injury or death.” This approach is critical — the systems we choose to design and the policies that dictate them can and must be changed to acknowledge the fact that humans are fallible and vulnerable, and that planning, design and policy choices can create systems that aren’t doomed to fail.
The NRSS has five objectives:
- Safer People: Mitigating drunk, distracted and otherwise impaired driving
- Safer Roads: Designing roads that keep vulnerable users and drivers moving safely
- Safer Vehicles: Expand the availability of crash-avoidance mitigation systems
- Safer Speeds: Promote lower speed limits and road designs conducive to slower driving
- Post-Crash Care: Increase the survivability of crashes through careful road design and access to life-saving medical care
You won’t explicitly find the word “bicycle” in these objectives, and that actually makes sense. The messaging on bicycle safety from the ultimate authority in the United States encourages a much needed shift from the age-old and tired “wear reflective gear and make eye contact” rhetoric to acknowledge that crashes involving people on bikes and pedestrians has everything to do with the faulty system in which they’re operating: unsafe roads that promote the unsafe driving of vehicles by humans who at best are following the rules of said unsafe road.
At PeopleForBikes, we’re especially eager to see the potential progress to be made from the Safer Roads mandate. Our core mission and work is to make every bike ride better, and safe, connected bike infrastructure plays a key role. This new strategy comes at the right time, as cities and states are planning for the implementation of funding and programs soon to be available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).
Safer Roads calls for a comprehensive Complete Streets initiative, partnered with the BIL’s $6 billion Safe Streets for All program that will require states and metropolitan planning organizations to use planning funds to develop Complete Streets policies. This objective will ensure updates to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) — American traffic engineers’ guide to design and planning — every four years, ensuring the national standard evolves with the latest research, practices and technologies for safer roads.
PeopleForBikes advocated for these policies within the BIL and supported a massive advocacy campaign to reform the MUTCD. We’re working with the current administration and our partners in cities and states nationwide to leverage the forthcoming funds to prioritize bike projects and meet every communities’ biggest transportation needs.
American roadways present one of the deadliest challenges facing our nation. We’re committed to ensuring the DOT makes good on their goal for zero traffic deaths and carries out the objectives established in the NRSS.