Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) issued a Call to Action on the first anniversary of the National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS). The NRSS puts forth a multimodal strategy centered on the Safe System Approach (SSA)—safe roads, safe vehicles, safe users, safe speeds, and effective postcrash
care. USDOT is calling on all parts of this community to commit to actions that will advance the NRSS. ITE was an early adopter of the SSA, and through our work with the Roadway Safety Coalition has led the growing awareness and adoption of the SSA throughout the United States, building from the work of our international colleagues. We were recognized by USDOT as a “first mover” for our efforts and are committed to do more. With more than 40,000 people dying on our nation’s roadways in 2022, we must all do more.
Addressing the highway safety problem is not the responsibility of any one entity. However, as owners and operators of the highway system, we have a significant responsibility and obligation to the users of the system. We must do everything in our power to see that those who travel on roadways arrive home safely at the end of the day. This means accepting that humans are fallible—though we wish they did, drivers don’t always follow the signs, traffic control devices, and regulations. Often, they are distracted by their thoughts, momentarily confused or uncertain about which way to go, or otherwise unaware or inattentive to hazardous conditions. What we hope is that the roadway system is planned, designed, and operated with forgiveness. That our momentary lapse does not result in a crash, or worse, the loss of life.
It also means accepting that humans are frail. In crashes, the laws of physics prevail—higher speed collisions, particularly ones involving vulnerable users, are much more likely to result in a fatality. While we know this is true, in today’s vehicles, with their size, quiet, and comfort, we often misjudge how fast we are going, or go too fast for the conditions or environment we are driving in–this is another reality we must deal with as infrastructure owners and operators.
So what to do? If we accept that humans are both fallible and frail and that we can affect their behavior through how we plan, design, and operate the roadway, then we can take a different approach. One that seeks to provide space and time for all users of the system, not just vehicles, one that uses reduced speed limits, roadway treatments and automated enforcement techniques to slow vehicles down, one that uses rumble strips, surface friction treatments, and other tools to provide forgiveness for drivers on rural roads. When we make design choices that accommodate imperfect user behavior or provide forgiveness, we are implementing the Safe System Approach.
It is not easy to be a transportation professional in today’s world. Often decisions are made by others that constrain our ability to fully implement some of the solutions we
know would create the safest roadway system. However, that should not be an excuse for not fully utilizing the resources and responsibility entrusted in us to help our neighbors, friends, and family arrive home safely.
The Call to Action challenges each of us to apply the knowledge, skills, abilities, and authorities we have with a safety-first mindset. If we do so, we will save lives—and what is more important than that? As always, contact me on the ITE e-Community or at firstname.lastname@example.org.