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Salvaging the suggestions of the NTSB
In the weeks since the National Transportation Safety Board’s hearing on bicycle safety, media attention has focused on the board members’ addition of recommendations that focus on mandatory helmet usage. We reviewed the media covering the NTSB report and found that 18 of 21 articles mentioned mandatory helmet laws – and only mandatory helmet laws – in their headline. While every article the League found discussed the mandatory helmet use recommendation, only about half mentioned any other recommendations. The other recommendations? Build more bike infrastructure and build safer cars, among other things.
Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Advocates for traffic safety and people who bike have known for years that, “[t]he helmet fixation redirects attention away from the overarching problem of vehicular violence, assisting in its denial.” This is backed by research that shows most news coverage of traffic violence is victim blaming and that real progresscould be made if journalists—and NTSB board members—instead focused on systemic problems that lead to crashes rather than the actions of individual victims.
We need safer systems, not simply safer individual riders or drivers. To salvage the good recommendations of the NTSB staff, and endorsed by the NTSB board, please join us in contacting the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in asking them to take action on four NTSB recommendations that can prevent deadly crashes and create safer systems for people who bike, walk, and drive:
The NTSB made three findings that support the need for better bicycle infrastructure:
- Finding 5. Separated bike lanes could prevent bicycle crashes involving motor vehicles at midblock locations and, thereby, also reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries associated with such crashes.
- Finding 6. Combining proven countermeasures to improve bicyclist safety at intersection and midblock locations can create a network of safer roadways for bicyclists.
- Finding 7. Consolidating guidance concerning separated bike lanes, intersection treatments, and the transition between them may increase the implementation of separated bike lanes by transportation planning and engineering practitioners.”
Accordingly, the NTSB made two recommendations deserving immediate attention by FHWA:
- Recommendation 7. Include separated bike lanes and intersection safety treatments on the list of Proven Safety Countermeasures.
- Recommendation 8. Include separated bike lanes and intersection safety treatments in the Every Day Counts program.
The NTSB made five findings that support the need for better motor vehicle safety systems and testing:
- Finding 14. Collision avoidance system technologies could be modified to detect bicycles, which would likely reduce the incidence of collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles and mitigate injuries caused by collisions when they occur.
- Finding 15. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s delays in updating the New Car Assessment Program have likely slowed the development of important safety systems for vulnerable road users and their implementation into the vehicle fleet.
- Finding 16. The US Department of Transportation’s slow progress in developing standards for connected vehicle technology has delayed the implementation of potentially lifesaving technology.
- Finding 17. The larger blind spots of large vehicles make it more difficult for their drivers to detect vulnerable road users.
- Finding 18. There continues to be a need for performance standards to ensure blind spot detection systems are capable of detecting vulnerable road users, including bicyclists.”
Accordingly, the NTSB made two recommendations deserving immediate attention by NHTSA:
- Recommendation 2. Incorporate into the New Car Assessment Program tests to evaluate a car’s ability to avoid crashes with bicycles.
- Recommendation 3. In collaboration with the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office and the Federal Highway Administration, expand vehicle-to-pedestrian research efforts to ensure that bicyclists and other vulnerable road users will be incorporated into the safe deployment of connected vehicle systems.
On November 5, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) staff presented the board with their report, "Bicyclist safety on US Roadways: Crash Risks and Countermeasures" and recommendations. While the report noted bike infrastructure and better vehicle design are critical elements to bicyclists' safety, the board members chose to place an emphasis on and change staff recommendations to reflect mandatory helmet usage. The League of American Bicyclists’ opposes mandatory helment law. Read our full statement.