Paving the Way on Road to Zero

NSC leads initiative aimed at ending traffic fatalities within 30 years.

Jane Terry is director of Government Affairs for the National Safety Council

​​​​​From 19,100 traffic fatalities, we have st​arted a countdown. Our goal is to reach zero. ​At the National Safety Council, we are charting a course with a number of highway safety experts on the Road to Zero. That's the name of the new initiative we have been asked to lead, one that brings together an all-star cast of government agencies and private sector leaders.

There is much work to be done. From Jan. 1 to June 30, NSC estimates 19,100 people died in crashes on American roads. That's more than 100 deaths every day, or a 9% increase from the same six-month span in 2015.

Equally disturbing, traffic fatalities jumped 8% in 2015, representing the largest increase in 50 years. This trend can be traced at least in part to an increase in driving and risk exposure brought about by an economic uptick. But driver behavior plays a role.

This summer in Vital Signs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detailed how America's road safety record lags well behind that of its high-income counterparts around the world. The U.S. ranked 18th out of 20 comparison countries in front seat belt use. Furthermore, the CDC said 1 in 3 crash deaths in the U.S. involved a drunk driver and nearly 1 in 3 crash deaths involved speeding.

Fatal crashes resulting from these factors – and others, including distracted driving – are preventable. NSC is creating an atmosphere of change as the leader of Road to Zero. Many others have agreed to join with us in a national coalition, including the Federal Highway Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. We also have tapped public health officials, car and technology company representatives as well as individuals working on existing initiatives such as Toward Zero Deaths and the Vision Zero Network.

The purpose of the Road to ZeroCoalition is three-fold:

  1. Encourage and facilitate widespread implementation of countermeasures to reduce motor vehicle crash deaths in the near term.
  2. Develop a scenario-based vision for zero U.S. traffic deaths in the future.
  3. Provide a roadmap for policymakers and stakeholders to eliminate preventable roadway deaths in our lifetime.

Already, engineering solutions are separating pedestrians and cyclists from traffic on roadways. Rumble strips are being used to prevent run-off-the-road and head-on crashes. The top 20 vehicle manufacturers have agreed to add automatic emergency braking as a standard feature in all vehicles by 2020. And consumers, including employers, are turning toward advanced driver assistance systems such as backup cameras and blind spot monitors to eliminate crashes.

While fully autonomous vehicles are years off, this is part of a philosophical shift in the landscape of traffic safety. Technology today is a tool being used to address driver error, a known factor in more than 90% of crashes.

Ghandi said, "The future depends on what we do in the present." Presently, we are talking about how together as one collaborative team we can build a very different future on the Road to Zero. We are miles from our goal but committed to the mission. Join us.

If you would like to get involved, email [email protected].​

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