Getting to Zero
Last year, in the Guest Editorial of the Winter 2022 issue of Public Roads, I shared the tragic news that 2020 had the highest number of people killed on our Nation’s roadways since 2007. As high as that number was, we lost even more family members, best friends, colleagues, and neighbors on our roadways in 2021, with an estimated 42,915 lives lost—representing a more than 10 percent increase from the previous year.
The only acceptable number is zero. And getting to zero is a shared responsibility between those who build, design, operate, and utilize the Nation’s roadways.
With the recent escalation in roadway fatalities, the challenge of getting to zero seems daunting. Nonetheless, with the actions that the U.S. Department of Transportation is taking and the historic levels of funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), we remain committed to taking actions that will lead to reversing the current trend in roadway fatalities.
In January 2022, recognizing that the status quo is unacceptable and, more importantly, preventable, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg launched the USDOT National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS). Implementation of the NRSS is arranged around the Safe System Approach, which focuses on five key objectives: safer people, safer roads, safer vehicles, safer speeds, and post-crash care. The NRSS also identifies new priority actions, makes changes to our existing practices, and targets solutions with the most substantial impact. Bolstered by the once-in-a-generation level of funding provided in BIL, the objectives and actions in the NRSS provide the steps needed as FHWA does its part in working toward the ambitious goal of zero fatalities.
BIL’s investment in transportation has infused additional Federal funds to increase safety for people to travel on our roads. BIL increases funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program by nearly 34% over the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act levels, totaling over $15 billion over the 5-year life of BIL. This gives States and local communities the ability to deploy lifesaving countermeasures more rapidly across more parts of their transportation system. For example, the new Safe Streets and Roads for All program (https://www.transportation.gov/grants/SS4A) provides $1 billion per year, over the next five years, for regional, local, and Tribal investments in meaningful Safe System initiatives. This discretionary grant program will support communities across the United States in preventing transportation-related deaths and serious injuries on roads and streets.
This issue of Public Roads elaborates on the Complete Streets model that will help States and localities prioritize safety, comfort, and connectivity for people of all abilities and across all modes of transportation (see “Complete Streets: Prioritizing Safety for All Road Users” on page 17). FHWA submitted a Report to Congress that highlighted the barriers and opportunities to implementing a Complete Streets model. The article summarizes those barriers and opportunities and shares how FHWA is starting to address them.
Further, with the nighttime fatality rate at three times the daytime rate, improving visibility at critical locations is necessary for road safety. My office has made efforts this past year to address this critical problem, including:
- In April 2022, publishing the Pedestrian Lighting Primer to help transportation practitioners address the vulnerability of pedestrians during dark conditions.
- Updating the Manual on Uniform Traffic Devices for Streets and Highways—under the recently published final rule by FHWA to provide a new minimum standard regarding pavement marking retroreflectivity, which is expected to reduce crashes in dark or low-light conditions.
The final rule also requires States and local officials to implement a method within 4 years for maintaining retroreflectivity at or above minimum levels.
Getting to zero requires a lasting commitment from everyone. Our efforts at FHWA must include coordination among the public sector, private sector, and research communities. Only by working together on this public crisis will we reach our ultimate goal.
Cheryl J. Walker
Associate Administrator for Safety
Federal Highway Administration