As we read about lives cut short due to traffic crashes, we generally attribute the loss to a mistake; yet no driver, pedestrian, or cyclist intends harm on our roadways. While all roadway users are responsible for their actions, all users are human and all humans make mistakes.
Just last week alone, we read with great sadness about high school brothers dying while making a left turn on the way to school. In one county, four pedestrians, one of whom was 76 years old, were killed in separate crashes when motor vehicles had the right-of-way. A speeding teen lost control and crashed into a tree. Parents of four kids died when their SUV failed to negotiate a curve.
The common thread is the crash victims, whether a driver or pedestrian, made mistakes that cost their lives.
Worldwide and nationally, these mistakes pile up into unimaginable numbers. Internationally in 2013, an estimated 1.2 million were killed in traffic crashes. In the United States, even at historic low rates, an estimated 32,675 people were killed in crash deaths in 2014. The Georgia Department of Transportation says the state this year is on track to suffer 1,200 or more roadway fatalities. By mid-October, the number was 1,065, compared to 787 over the same time period in 2014.
The fundamental question we should all be asking ourselves is simple: should human mistakes made using our roadways result in death or serious injury? If the answer is no, then we should ask if the roadway system is at fault and what solutions can be found to stop the mistakes and save lives.
At the federal level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed programs centering on the 4 E’s of traffic safety: engineering, education, enforcement and emergency medical services.
For Georgia, the Governor’s Representative and state Department of Transportation are responsible for developing and implementing strategies to reduce crash deaths. Working with partners at every level of government, non-profits and businesses, historic strides have been made towards zero deaths.
Other countries facing similar challenges have adopted the initiative Vision Zero, with the goal that no deaths are acceptable and recognizing that humans make mistakes. Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries, while increasing safety, health and mobility for all.
By adding evaluation and equity to the 4 E’s of traffic safety, Vision Zero uses a systemwide data-driven approach to fixing roadways where traffic deaths occur. Its focus is on pedestrians under the premise that if roads are safe for pedestrians, roads will be safe for drivers and cyclists as well. Vision Zero places responsibility on local governments to implement these policies and complements existing federal and state highway safety policies.
Sweden, where Vision Zero was conceived, lowered its crash deaths from 772 in 1990 to 264 in 2013 while increasing the vehicle miles driven. Were cities throughout the United States to use the same system, crash deaths here would plummet from 32,675 to 9,417 individuals nationwide.
Cities throughout Western Europe have adopted Vision Zero policies to eliminate crash deaths. This includes Germany, whose companies Mercedes, Porsche and DEKRA’s American operations are headquartered in the Atlanta region. Representatives of these companies have seen firsthand the benefits of Vision Zero in reducing crash deaths. Eleven cities in the United States, including New York and Los Angeles, have adopted Vision Zero policies and are beginning to experience its benefits.
Because Vision Zero focuses on pedestrian safety, it also results in improved health, safer communities, more commerce, and increased property values. This is increasingly important as we follow the Surgeon General’s “Step It Up” call to action promoting walking and walkable communities to combat rising obesity trends, millennials demanding mobility options, and persons aging in place needing safer places to walk. By making communities more walkable, student education outcomes improve and crime is reduced.
November 15 is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. While our nation and state have made strides, it’s time for our local governments to step up their policies by adopting Vision Zero. While knowing who is at fault is important, it is more important that we know our local policies place the highest priority on preventing crash deaths irrespective of fault. As humans who make mistakes, Vision Zero is our next logical step to save lives.
Bob Dallas, former director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, serves on the MARTA board and is board chairman of PEDS, an Atlanta-based pedestrian advocacy group.