Our Biggest Challenge

By Mr. Jeffrey Paniati P.E posted 14 days ago

One of the most confounding and unexpected results of COVID-19 has been the dramatic increase in the loss of life on our nation’s roadways. If you had told me at the start of the pandemic that travel would drop dramatically during this period, but fatalities would increase significantly, it would be hard to believe. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, the National Safety Council estimated that there were 39,107 motor-vehicle deaths. That increased to 42,339 in 2020, and again in 2021 to 46,020. Across this same period, the fatality rate increased from 1.20 fatalities per hundred million vehicle miles traveled in 2019, to 1.43 in 2021.

What to do? No single action or solution will reverse this trend. As a community of transportation professionals, this vexing problem requires all the tools in our toolbox. This is the essence of the Safe System Approach. ITE has championed this approach in the United States, which is built around the idea of creating a multi-faceted safety net of safer users, safer vehicles, safer roads, safer speeds, and effective post-crash care.

A critical underpinning of the Safe System Approach is accepting the realities that humans will make mistakes, and that speed kills. This does not mean that we should tolerate the egregious driving behavior that’s been on the rise. Enforcement is critical to addressing excessive speeds and aggressive driving. But, we also need to accept that the planning, design, and operational decisions we make every day can determine whether a mistake results in a minor crash, or the loss of life. We need to embrace design concepts that help lower speeds and increase survivability in the event of a crash. This proactive, systematic, human-centered philosophy is what distinguishes the Safe System Approach.

It was encouraging to see the U.S. Department of Transportation embrace the Safe System Approach in its recent release of their National Roadway Safety Strategy as outlined on pages 23. This federal leadership, combined with increased financial resources, are critical for affecting change. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act/Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides funds and programs that support the advancement of the Safe System Approach. From increases across all categories of federal-aid funding, to increased emphasis on pedestrians and bicyclists as part of the Highway Safety Improvement Program, to significant discretionary funds targeted to local jurisdictions through the Safe Streets and Roadways for All Program, an unprecedented level of resources are available.

ITE is working hard to support our members through our active role in the Road to Zero Coalition, our leadership in advancing Vision Zero and the Safe System Approach, the efforts of Councils and Committees, and the wide array of professional development offerings and technical tools available through our website. Safety will be a key part of this year’s ITE Annual Meeting in New Orleans, July 31-August 3, including our Plenary Panel session featuring safety leaders from the federal, state, and local levels.

While federal and national leadership are critical, the safety problem must be solved one street, one neighborhood, and one community at a time. We must do our part if we are going solve our biggest and most important transportation challenge. As always, reach out to me on the ITE e-Community or on Twitter: @JeffPaniatiITE.

This is from the director's message from the May 2022 issue of ITE Journal.