WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, over 75 organizations dedicated to highway safety gathered to hear details about a new initiative from the Department of Transportation called, “Road to Zero.” Officials from the Department of Transportation (DoT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Safety Council unveiled details of the initiative touting its commitment to eliminate all traffic-related deaths by the year 2030.
Officials spoke about ‘losing ground’ when it comes to lowering death rates on the nation’s roadways and pointed to the recently published statistic of a 7.2% increase in traffic deaths in 2015 which accounted for over 35,000 lives lost. Even more troubling were preliminary numbers for the first half of 2016 which shows a potentially even greater increase, currently projected to be 10.4%. Note that these numbers are for all traffic related deaths; not just motorcyclists.
Specifics of the initiative were still in development with DoT authorities projecting a 12-18-month time frame for developing details of the long term plan. However, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind laid out three areas that he expected the initiative to center around which included the following:
1. Proactive Vehicle Safety: Ensuring that DoT and automakers have the tools necessary to ensure vehicle safety such as the ability to issue recalls and proactive safety measures like automatic emergency braking and lane infiltration detection systems.
2. Focus on Automotive Vehicle Technology: This area would center around a framework for self-driving vehicles and vehicles with automated driving technology ensuring that the technology continues to advance in a way that will help to eliminate driver error resulting in “untold potential” in saving lives on the nation’s roadways.
3. New Solutions to Human Behavior: Referencing the statistic that 94% of crashes are due to driver error, the Road to Zero initiative would make this a key area of focus looking at concerns like distracted and drowsy driving as well as driving under the influence. According to officials, the key to making progress in these areas is to create a culture in the U.S. that engaging in these behaviors are unacceptable.
With the general parameters laid out, the conversation shifted to who and what groups would participate in developing the specifics of the long-term plan in achieving Road to Zero’s objectives. There is currently a steering committee of 12 groups which included auto and equipment manufacturers, researchers and other entities such as the Governors’ Institute for Highway Safety. In addition to the steering group, authorities proposed a role for all interested parties to play a role in the coalition which is likely to meet quarterly over the next 18 months. It was unclear if any motorcycle presence or viewpoints would be taken into consideration though generally the consensus was that DoT was interested in participation from all interested parties.
After the long-term plan is developed, additional activities will take place including funding for grants for organizations that aim to achieve the objectives laid out as well as a road map for policy, legislative and regulatory decision makers to incorporate into new or existing laws and regulations.
In addition to the steering committee and broader coalition, the point was made that Road to Zero would also engage with partners with similar objectives; namely Europe’s ‘Vision Zero’ embraced by some U.S. cities and states as well as ‘Towards Zero’ which employs similar objectives. It should be noted that when Europe’s own Vision Zero was introduced some years ago, motorcycles were a controversial subject with some suggesting that had no place in modern traffic systems.
Understanding that this initiative will be a major area of focus for regulators and policymakers over the next year, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) will continue to be engaged in the coalition ensuring that motorcycles, biker rights’ and a focus on motorcycle crash prevention remain a part of the dialogue as this initiative moves forward. In addition, the MRF will pay particularly close attention and seek unbiased answers as to how the initiatives under this program have played out in Europe and ensure these communications are made to policymakers in the U.S. as this program gets underway.