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US agency assures Americans of new safety strategy as traffic deaths soar

Accident Scene in the US Photo: Best Oregon

*The United States Department of Transportation has announced a National Roadway Safety Strategy with an ambitious goal to attain ‘zero traffic deaths’, shifting greater responsibility to systems surrounding road users as it outlines steps for shoring up systemic protections and public safety

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

As road traffic fatalities increase in the advanced economy, United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has announced a National Roadway Safety Strategy with an ambitious goal: zero traffic deaths.

ConsumerConnect gathered Buttigieg, while announcing a new plan of the Department of Transportation (DOT) at the Department’s Headquarters for addressing the recent spike in traffic fatalities — the National Roadway Safety Strategy Thursday, January 27, 2022, described road fatalities an “unacceptable” crisis in the American country.

The fresh strategy is said to be a departure from the widely held view that most vehicle crashes are due to human error, as it shifts greater responsibility to systems surrounding road users and outlines steps for shoring up systemic protections, Bloomberg report said.

In remarks reeling off statistics at DOT headquarters, Buttigieg cited the 18.4 percent surge in fatalities in the first half of 2021 — the largest six-month jump on record — with over 20,000 people killed in vehicle crashes over the first six months of the year.

That followed a 7.2 percent increase in all of 2020, despite a slump in vehicle travel during the pandemic, whereas over 38,000 people died on the roads 2020, in the United States.

The US Secretary of Transportation further stated: “It’s as if we were living through a war. We cannot accept that these fatalities are somehow an inevitable part of life in America.”

Calling the rising road death toll “a crisis that is urgent, unacceptable and preventable,” Buttigieg described the DOT strategy as “a true first — a comprehensive plan to reduce deaths on US highways,” report said.

In view of the new strategy, the Department of Transportation will aim for greater safety in road design, vehicle design, speed limits, post-crash medical care and human behaviour.

Modelled after the “safe system” approach defined by Vision Zero practitioners, the five elements are meant to work in tandem and create redundancies that close safety gaps. Eventually, Buttigieg said, “our goal is zero deaths — a country where one day no one has to say goodbye to a loved one because of a traffic crash.”

It was also learnt that action items include a new complete streets initiative, in which DOT will provide technical assistance to state and local agencies to build roads that are safer for drivers as well as pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.

Updates, report noted, are in store for the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which sets marking and signage standards, with new speed limit-setting methodologies that prioritise safety rather than vehicle throughput and added protections for vulnerable road users.

New regulatory changes will require more data sharing and collection, so that states can crack down on drivers with drug or alcohol violations and other unsafe driving histories.

Alliance with auto manufacturers for new rules

According to DOT, “technology alone will not save us, certainly not on any acceptable timeline.”

The regulatory agency also will work with auto manufacturers to set new rules on automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection systems and other vehicle technologies, while improving the information it shares with automobile consumers.

Over the next five years, nearly $14billion in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will flow to road safety programmes, including $6billion in new competitive grants for complete streets and safer school routes.

Others are $4billion in additional funding for state highway safety improvements, and hundreds of millions for behavioural research and interventions, report added.

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