In January, the League of American Bicyclists joined with Families for Safe Streets, Toward Zero Deaths, the Road to Zero Coalition, and the Vision Zero Network to urge President Biden and his incoming leadership team to commit to reducing traffic fatalities to zero by 2050. Since January 20, 2021, more than 1,000 organizations and individuals have joined that call.
The League joined the call for #ZeroTrafficDeaths because every traffic death is a person whose loss impacts a family, impacts friends, and impacts their community. There is no reason to accept the inevitability of traffic deaths and there is every reason to be outraged that roads in the United States are significantly more dangerous than almost all peer countries. We’re calling on President Biden to make a public commitment because this is an issue where all we lack is leadership. While our organizations advocate from the grassroots, our nation needs to hear this commitment from the top.
In 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) celebrated its 50th anniversary at the same time a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed the United States is uniquely unsafe for people biking, walking, and driving. The United States outpaced countries in Europe with the largest increase in pedestrian deaths over the last decade, the third highest rate of road deaths per capita, and with the highest rate of annual increase in road deaths over the last decade.
Committing to #ZeroTrafficDeaths is committing to saving lives. We know what engineering and policy changes will save lives from traffic violence—doing it only requires the political leadership. Our politicians must be held accountable to reverse the trends of the last decade, where people biking and walking were killed in larger and larger numbers year-over-year, with pedestrian deaths increasing by 51% and bicyclist deaths increasing by 35% since 2009. While the letter does not call for specific policy changes, there are signs that the traffic safety industry is on the verge of a change where leadership could have a lasting impact.
One of the ways that the United States is a traffic safety outlier is our culture: we presume traffic safety is an individual responsibility rather than a collective responsibility that includes the role of agencies which plan, design, build, and operate our nation’s roadways. In 2020, the United States chose not to join the Stockholm Declaration on Road Safety, which called on nations to “Include road safety and a safe system approach as an integral element of land use, street design, transport system planning and governance, especially for vulnerable road users and in urban areas”, stating instead that “our research indicates that human error and behavioral factors… are among the most consequential crash factors.”
By committing to #ZeroTrafficDeaths by 2050, President Biden can bring the United States into the modern era of safe systems embraced by nations with far better traffic safety outcomes.
- Leadership today can stop NHTSA’s misuse of research to claim that “94 percent of car crashes are caused by human error.”
- Leadership today can build on the Federal Highway Administration’s recognition that “Whereas traditional road safety strives to modify human behavior and prevent all crashes, the Safe System approach also refocuses transportation system design and operation on anticipating human mistakes and lessening impact forces to reduce crash severity and save lives.”
- Leadership today can catalyze the shift needed as identified by the Road to Zero Coalition, “Adopting the Safe System approach involves a fundamental shift from the common assumption that crashes generally happen because of people’s behavior.”
Committing to #ZeroTrafficDeaths will not end victim blaming overnight, but it will recognize that this is a political issue where leadership matters. The status quo does not work for the nearly 40,000 people killed on our nation’s roadways each year, for their families, or for the people who have limited mobility because of the fear of traffic violence. Please join us in telling President Biden to use his political leadership to change our traffic safety culture to embrace safe systems for all people.