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February 25, 2021 12:45 PM, EST

Safety Is a Priority for Policymakers Pursuing Highway Bill

Street SignSome of the measures will include the safety of pedestrians. (txking/Getty Images)

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Transportation policymakers in Congress aiming to produce comprehensive highway legislation this year pledged to boost safety policies across the mobility grid.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) stressed his commitment to pursue programs and systems designed to improve safety on freight and passenger corridors. He noted the most recent data on the number of fatalities on the nation’s roadways raises concerns.

According to data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 36,096 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2019.

Rep. Peter DeFazio

DeFazio

“Some may point to the fact that the rate of traffic fatalities per vehicle miles traveled has decreased during our lifetime and say we’ve done our job. I say that’s unacceptable. To put it in context for you: In 1994 we lost 40,716 lives on our roadways; in 2019 we lost 36,096. I’d say we have a lot more work to do,” DeFazio told colleagues during a hearing Feb. 24.

“We still lose an average of 100 lives per day due to motor vehicle crashes. What’s worse, the majority of these crashes are entirely preventable. Year after year, the leading cause of car crashes is human behavior: excessive speed, drunk driving and distraction,” he said.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), chairwoman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, indicated additional resources are needed to continue to target the causes of injuries and deaths on the country’s roadways. As she put it, “Targeting resources is necessary to ensure that we actually move the needle on traffic safety.”

The transportation panel is expected to commence debate on a multiyear highway policy measure before the summer. Policymakers say they intend to propose safety enhancement provisions pertaining to cars, trucks, rail, airplanes and transit. They also plan to propose what’s known as “complete streets” concepts meant to enhance the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Congressional leaders signaled the potential for approving the update of the nation’s main highway law before its expiration in September.

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Safety is a central theme for the new administration. The country’s top transportation official, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, told lawmakers his focus is to provide safety​ for travelers, as well as the workforce. “We must ensure all of our transportation systems — from aviation to public transit, to our railways, roads, ports, waterways and pipelines — are managed safely during this critical period, as we work to defeat the virus,” Buttigieg told senators earlier this year.

Stakeholders say they welcome additional attention to safety concerns. The National Safety Council, for instance, pointed to the Road to Zero Coalition, a group of more than 1,600 organizational members working to eliminate roadway fatalities by 2050. Last month, the coalition joined other proponents to call on President Joe Biden and Buttigieg to approve policies that would lead to zero such fatalities within 30 years.

National Safety Council Letter by Transport Topics on Scribd

“We can no longer stand by while 100 people die every day on our roadways,” Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, told House lawmakers Feb. 24.

Additionally, American Trucking Associations noted its advocacy for regulations that further improve safety throughout the trucking industry via investments in equipment and training. ATA is urging transportation policymakers to dedicate funding toward ameliorating truck parking woes. The group explained a lack of adequate parking convinces drivers to either continue operating when fatigued or park at unsafe locations.

It told the Senate’s surface transportation panel on Feb. 24, “ATA looks forward to working with the committee to develop a long-term, well-funded surface transportation reauthorization bill that addresses highway safety, maintenance and mobility needs.”

DeFazio acknowledged the concerns linked to lack of available parking for trucks, and said he plans to examine the issue this year.

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