Highway Safety—A Never-Ending Challenge to Save Lives
For more than 100 years, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and State and local departments of transportation have partnered to build the Nation's highways: almost 6.4 million kilometers (4 million miles) of roads providing unparalleled mobility to American travelers. The challenge to improve highway safety and reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities is central to the partnerships between local, State, and Federal jurisdictions and private industry.
In the latter half of the 20th century, higher design standards, improved safety and operational features, and new technologies and innovations in transportation systems contributed to safer journeys for travelers on the Nation's roads. Advances in automobile and road design, improved highway operation, and continuous outreach to motorists have led to safer roads and increased driver responsibility. As a result, the fatality rate decreased from 5.5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled in 1966 to a historic low of 1.48 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled in 2003. But more work remains.
Despite significant advances in highway safety, the transportation community still needs to do more to reduce the deaths on America's highways. The goal of improving highway safety continues to challenge transportation decisionmakers and transportation professionals as they strive to reduce the more than 42,000 deaths and 3 million injuries that occur annually and result in estimated costs that exceed $230 billion. Over the last 30 years, the United States dropped in ranking from having the safest highway system in the world to the 10th safest today.
FHWA and its partners can and must continue to respond aggressively to the ongoing challenge of improving highway safety. Because safety is one of FHWA's highest priorities, an aggressive national goal now drives Agency efforts: 1.0 fatality per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled by the year 2008. To achieve this goal, FHWA recently adopted a performance-based business model and approach.
Other national transportation organizations share that goal as well, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Governors Highway Safety Association, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. In addition, State transportation decisionmakers are making a difference in highway safety by broadening their definitions of success to include operational and safety measures along with metrics for pounds of steel and square yards of concrete placed.
Several leaders who are making a major impact on safety and their States are featured in "The Many Faces of Safety". FHWA encourages States to develop comprehensive highway safety plans, as illustrated in the article, "New Focus for Highway Safety". Comprehensive plans bring together a variety of stakeholders in safety to leverage talents and resources to make a real difference. Also, the need to meet performance measures for highway safety increases the focus on saving lives, the most meaningful measurement in the end.
During my career at FHWA, it has been an honor and privilege to work with a number of talented and dedicated professionals, who have the ability and motivation to move forward with making the Nation's highways safer. As I near the end of my work at FHWA, I remain optimistic about the potential of the transportation community to meet the national safety challenge, and I will do my part as a citizen to support safety on the highway system. For a Nation whose vision and determination built the best highway transportation system in the world, solving the safety problem is certainly within our reach.
A. George Ostensen
Associate Administrator for Safety
Federal Highway Administration