Director of Transportation Safety, National Safety Council
Ask yourself, how many members of your own family would you sacrifice to exercise the privilege of driving? I am sure your answer is zero.
While it may not be easy, we should make zero our goal. The Road to Zero Coalition – 900 members strong and managed by the National Safety Council – has given us a plan to get there.
“The Road to Zero: A Vision for Achieving Zero Roadway Deaths by 2050” proposes three interconnected approaches that, taken together, can eliminate roadway deaths in the United States:
1. Double down on what works
We already have successful traffic safety strategies to address hazards such as speed and impairment – from automated speed enforcement to alcohol ignition interlocks. The problem is, we inconsistently apply best practices. By refocusing our efforts to support proven countermeasures, we can save lives with the tools already at our disposal.
Take another example, the use of seat belts, which has increased dramatically over the past several decades. Ninety percent of all front-seat occupants buckle up, according to Injury Facts, yet almost half of all vehicle occupant fatalities today are unbelted.
If we increased seat belt use by only a few percentage points, we could save thousands of lives. Next time you are in a vehicle, including a rideshare or cab, make sure to buckle up, even if you are in the back seat. Drive defensively. Don’t speed. Don’t drive impaired and don’t drive distracted.
2. Accelerate advanced technology
If we are to achieve even more significant, near-term gains in roadway safety, it will require a commitment to advancing, adopting, and accelerating technology throughout the vehicle fleet and in our roadway design.
Automakers have announced plans to make certain advanced safety features standard equipment on new vehicles, but it will take wider adoption and increased education around these technologies to make the biggest difference. You can do your part by considering purchasing a vehicle with advanced safety features and learning how to use its technologies. Remember, no vehicles for sale today are self-driving. Even with advanced technology, drivers must stay fully engaged while driving at all times.
But the promise of life-saving technology doesn’t end with the vehicle; it also applies to the environment and emergency response. Smart grid technologies, automated enforcement, real-time transmission of crash forces, and vital health information for first responders can all reduce the death toll.
3. Prioritize safety
The third and final step is to create a safe system approach and an overall safety culture in the United States. We demand 100 percent safe operations in aviation, marine, rail, and transit; we should cultivate a corresponding societal demand for safe roads.
In urban areas, slowing down traffic makes it more likely pedestrians and bicyclists will survive a collision. Driving down the higher per capita death toll in rural settings will require improving crash notifications and creating greater access to trauma centers.
Simple technology like rumble strips and cable barriers can keep vehicles from running off the road and save lives. You can get involved by advocating for such changes in your community.
It’s up to us
If we take no action, we will continue to lose around 40,000 of our friends, neighbors, and family members each year to preventable crashes. The Road to Zero report shows us how to get to zero traffic deaths, but it’s up to us to make it a personal commitment. Learn more at nsc.org/roadtozero.