The US Department of Transportation Secretary has released the federal government’s new comprehensive National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS), a roadmap for addressing roadway fatalities and serious injuries. Almost 95% of US transportation deaths occur on streets, roads, and highways.
The rate of roadway fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled has not substantially improved over the last ten years, and increased significantly in 2020. An estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020, of which an estimated 6,236 were people walking. In the first six months of 2021 an estimated 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes, up 18.4% over 2020. That is the largest number of projected fatalities for January through June since 2006.
The NRSS outlines USDOT’s approach to reducing serious injuries and deaths on highways, roads, and streets—the first step in working toward a long-term goal of reaching zero roadway fatalities.
The NRSS adopts the “Safe System Approach” principles to guide safety actions.
Death and Serious Injuries are Unacceptable. While no crashes are desirable, the Safe System Approach prioritizes the elimination of crashes that result in death and serious injuries since no one should experience either when using the transportation system.
Humans Make Mistakes. People will inevitably make mistakes and decisions that can lead or contribute to crashes, but the transportation system can be designed and operated to accommodate certain types and levels of human mistakes, and avoid death and serious injuries when a crash occurs.
Humans Are Vulnerable. People have physical limits for tolerating crash forces before death or serious injury occurs; therefore, it is critical to design and operate a transportation system that is human-centric and accommodates physical human vulnerabilities.
Responsibility is Shared. All stakeholders—including government at all levels, industry, non-profit/advocacy, researchers, and the public—are vital to preventing fatalities and serious injuries on roadways.
Safety is Proactive. Proactive tools should be used to identify and address safety issues in the transportation system, rather than waiting for crashes to occur and reacting afterwards.
Redundancy is Crucial. Reducing risks requires that all parts of the transportation system be strengthened, so that if one part fails, the other parts still protect people.
Implementation of the NRSS will be arranged around five complementary objectives corresponding to the Safe System Approach elements:
Safer People: Encourage safe, responsible behavior by people who use our roads and create conditions that prioritize their ability to reach their destination unharmed.
Safer Roads: Design roadway environments to mitigate human mistakes and account for injury tolerances, to encourage safer behaviors, and to facilitate safe travel by the most vulnerable users.
Safer Vehicles: Expand the availability of vehicle systems and features that help to prevent crashes and minimize the impact of crashes on both occupants and non-occupants.
Safer Speeds: Promote safer speeds in all roadway environments through a combination of thoughtful, context-appropriate roadway design, targeted education and outreach campaigns, and enforcement.
Post-Crash Care: Enhance the survivability of crashes through expedient access to emergency medical care, while creating a safe working environment for vital first responders and preventing secondary crashes through robust traffic incident management practices.
A few of the key actions USDOT will take to include:
Work with states and local road owners to build and maintain safer roadway through efforts including: updates to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices; a Complete Streets Initiative to provide technical assistance to communities of all sizes; and speed limit setting.
Leveraging technology to improve the safety of motor vehicles on our roadways, including rulemaking on automatic emergency braking and pedestrian automatic emergency braking, and updates to the New Car Assessment Program.
Investing in road safety through funding in the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA), including a new $6-billion Safe Streets and Roads for All program, hundreds of millions for behavioral research and interventions, and $4 billion in additional funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program.
NRSS builds on and harmonizes efforts from across the department’s three roadway safety agencies: the Federal Highway Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.