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Top 12 Actions In the National Roadway Safety Strategy
Yesterday, the Biden Administration released its National Roadway Safety Strategy, “a roadmap for addressing the national crisis in roadway fatalities and serious injuries.”
The League has been awaiting this strategy since October, when Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced the department was developing a vision for safety.
Ahead of the strategy’s release, the League outlined the priorities we wanted to see in the strategy, including:
More than just the congressionally approved funding. We are excited about the Safe Streets and Roads for All program in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, but we hope this strategy is larger than that.
How did the NRSS do?
- The strategy’s vision is larger than the Safe Streets and Roads for All program and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and it incorporates funding for actions from several buckets of safety funding.
A Safe System Approach. That means putting safety at the center of all transportation projects.
How did the NRSS do?
- A Safe System Approach is everywhere. The strategy includes 27 uses of the phrase and the document is structured around it as its “guiding paradigm.”
No more silos. Multiple federal agencies impact traffic safety and a whole-of-government approach would recognize this and recruit a holistic team of agencies to implement a Safe System Approach.
How did the NRSS do?
- We would have liked to see more on this priority as part of the strategy. The CDC is mentioned once in post-crash care. The Office of the President, the White House, and the Department of Justice are not mentioned at all.
- Agencies like DOJ would be helpful in reaching more equity goals, given its role in law enforcement and history of pattern and practice investigation, such as its investigation of disparate bike stops in Tampa, Florida. Nevertheless, the strategy does note, "The Department will advance equity as an instrumental component of transportation safety and convene key stakeholders – government at all levels, law enforcement, advocacy, community organizations, and the general public" and this could include the DOJ in future efforts.
- A few sentences allude to inter-agency cooperation, which would be a helpful advancement. Most prominent is the action item to "Update Departmental safety messaging so that it is unified across the entire Department and reflects the Safe System Approach principle of human fragility," which is the only department-wide action item. The Strategy also recognizes that "Safer speeds are ultimately a crosscutting issue."
Always important to the League in strategy documents like this is a commitment to action. Projects on the ground will make a much larger impact on our safety than words. Hopefully, in their press release announcing the strategy, US DOT notes, “The NRSS provides concrete steps that the Department will take to address this crisis systemically and prevent these tragic and avoidable deaths and serious injuries.”
Having reviewed the NRSS, we’ve identified the top 12 concrete steps we’re thrilled to see in the strategy:
1. “Support the planning, design and implementation of safer roads and streets in all communities using all available and applicable Federal funding resources, including existing formula funding programs to include but not limited to the Highway Safety Improvement Program”
- This is an action item for 2022, and implementing the historic investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a great opportunity to build safer bike networks and streets for everyone, more equitably, in all communities. It is important to see the USDOT stress all available Federal funding sources and not just “safety” or “bicycle” funding sources.
2.“Launch a comprehensive Complete Streets Initiative and provide technical assistance to communities of all sizes to implement policies that prioritize the safety of all users.”
- Complete Streets policies and approaches have been part of League programming for years. Implementing safer roadway designs routinely, consistently, and whenever an opportunity is presented is critical to making changes over time that will improve the safety of people who bike and walk.
3. “update…the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP or Program)...to emphasize safety features that protect people both inside and outside of the vehicle,... and automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assistance to benefit bicyclists and pedestrians”
- This is an action item for 2022, so it will be an early indicator of the commitment to safety. Technology like bicyclist automatic emergency braking was first implemented in EuroNCAP in 2018.
4. “Complete the current rulemaking process for Manual Uniform Traffic Control Devices”
- This is an action item for 2023. The last rulemaking to update the manual was in 2009. Critical safety improvements are included in the current rulemaking, and the over 25,000 comments from the League and others point to even more safety improvements that could be adopted.
5. “Develop and improve the information available for setting speed limits through Proven Safety Countermeasures and the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.”
- Managing speed is critical to the safety of people who bike and walk. The most common speed limit of a road where a person biking or walking is killed is 45 mph. Setting and designing for lower speeds, and/or safe separated facilities, is a necessary action to improve safety.
6. “Update Departmental safety messaging so that it is unified across the entire Department and reflects the Safe System Approach principle of human fragility.”
- This is an action item for 2024. Hopefully that shows respect for the difficulty of changing the culture of safety messaging across DOT and the need to work with diverse participants in crafting Safe System Approach messages rather than purposefully delaying the beginning of this work.
7. “Provide an NCAP ‘road map’ that will show how a set of vehicle improvements may be advanced over the next ten years”
- This is an action item for 2022. The last new US NCAP test was created in 2011. In an interview about the NRSS with Slate, Secretary Buttigieg repeatedly emphasized the need for regulations to keep up with technology, and this is an area in need of modernization. While any items on a roadmap is better than no updates in a decade, there are international road maps we can judge the US against.
8. “Revise FHWA guidance and regulations to take into account the safety of all users by encouraging the setting of context-appropriate speed limits and creating roadways that help to “self-enforce” speed limits.”
- “Self-enforcing streets” have been successful internationally and called for by advocacy organizations in the United States. The culture of speeding in the US reflects practices for designing roads for faster speeds rather than designing them for speed limit compliance. This is a potentially major positive change for safety.
9. “Leverage new funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for behavioral research and interventions, and use education, technical assistance, and outreach to disseminate information to partners.”
- This is an action item for 2024, which is when administrative changes from the BIL to NHTSA funding go into effect. Behavioral safety interventions are often criticized as victim blaming or overly reliant on punishment and it will be interesting to see how NHTSA pursues a more public health-oriented approach.
10. “Encourage States to apply for the Section 1906 grant program that funds the collection of information on the race and ethnicity of the driver in motor vehicle stops.”
- The League worked closely with the Transportation Equity Caucus to ensure that the Section 1906 grant program was strengthened in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. While we wish the program also included collecting information on stops of people biking and walking for traffic offenses, more support for this program is great to see.
11.“Support the development and accessibility of training designed to enhance equity in law enforcement.”
- In 2020, the League removed the “E” of Enforcement from our “5 E” framework used in the Bicycle Friendly America program as part of recognizing that “‘Enforcement’ does not equal ‘Safety’ for many People of Color, particularly Black Americans.” This action item is necessary to address current inequities and find an equitable course of action for traffic safety in the future.
12. “Update and lead the implementation of a robust, multimodal speed management program through new guides and close partnerships with stakeholders.”
- Recent research shows that people bike more when they are not exposed to traffic speeds above 20 mph, a speed limit that many states discourage. More research and guidance on the value of lower speeds is greatly appreciated.