U.S. Department of Transportation leaders discussed roadway safety Thursday at the first convening of key organizations that are part of the National Roadway Safety Strategy Call to Action. One key discussion topic was automated emergency braking systems, mostly related to passenger vehicles but also possibly to commercial vehicles.
DOT released the National Roadway Safety Strategy, what it calls a comprehensive approach to significantly reduce serious injuries and deaths on the nation’s highways, roads, and streets, early in 2022.
The related Call to Action asks partners and stakeholders from all levels of government, industry, nonprofits, advocacy, researchers, and the public to commit to specific actions to improve safety on the nation’s roads.
Buttigieg on Safety
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg opened the Thursday panel discussion by saying the basic reason the DOT exists is safety.
“So, we're part of a level of concerted action to meet what is a top priority, certainly for this administration's tenure at the Department of Transportation, which is to reverse the rise in roadway deaths,” he said. “The ultimate goal, which we've also made a point of adopting, is to get traffic deaths down to the only acceptable number, which is zero.
"I know a lot of people look at us a little funny when we talk about zero, because it is so difficult to imagine and because it's not something that's going to happen overnight. But one thing I think is very important to remember is that there are communities that have demonstrated that zero is possible, including right here in the United States.”
Buttigieg cited Jersey City, New Jersey, as an example. He said although it is the second-largest city in the most densely populated state, it had zero traffic deaths. Also, he pointed to Hoboken, New Jersey, which he said just completed its fourth consecutive year of zero traffic deaths.
The secretary said proven solutions include safer speed limits, protected bike and bus lanes, curb extensions, high-visibility crosswalks, and more frequent traffic signals. He noted that in February the federal government announced the first round of Safe Streets and Road for All grants to help communities. Applications for the second round of funding are open, he said.
Automatic Emergency Braking Systems
“In addition to getting more funding out the door for safety projects, we're also using our rulemaking power to improve road safety wherever we can,” Buttigieg said.
Just this week the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration proposed a new rule that would require automatic emergency braking systems on new vehicles and said that would prevent “tens of thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths every single year.” The rule would be applicable to passenger cars and light trucks.
“Just as lifesaving innovations from previous generations like seat belts and airbags have helped improve safety, requiring automatic emergency braking on cars and trucks would keep all of us safer on our road,” he said in a press release from NHTSA.
FMCSA Safety Topics
Following Buttigieg’s comments, deputy administrators from NHTSA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association, and Federal Transit Administration each detailed key safety-related points from his or her field of transportation oversight.
FMCSA Deputy Administrator Earl Adams Jr. provided insight into safety topics as they relate to trucking and commercial vehicles. He acknowledged the proposed AEBs rule and said the agency has been looking at automatic emergency braking for large trucks and commercial vehicles as well.
Speeding is also a key safety point for FMCSA, according to Adams.
“We also have been looking at safer speeds. We put out a supplemental notice of advanced rulemaking last year and got 15,000 comments on speed limiters. We know that speed is the number one cause of crashes. So, we are preparing a supplemental notice where we're going to continue to go out and gather data around the question of how we can remove speed from one of the factors that causes crashes,” Adams explained.
He pointed out FMCSA had its first observance of Our Roads, Our Safety Week as he explained the entire week focused on educating the public on how to share the roads with large trucks and buses.
Further detailing safety efforts that he said are on the horizon, Adams noted FMCSA’s exclusive electronics exchange and how that will allow states “quick and efficient” exchanging of information on CDL drivers and their records.
Adams also said implementation of the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse rule means states will report violations for drivers with drug and alcohol issues.
“You would think that that's something that would happen automatically. But no, it’s a process, and we're now sort of situated where that information will be shared so that employers are hiring only the best drivers and not those that have not gone through their reinstatement process or that just have issues and should not be driving at all,” said Adams. “It's really about giving our state and local partners, better tools so that they can then create an environment of better and safer drivers.”
Adams explained that one of the biggest challenges FMCSA faces is the nature of rulemaking and how it takes time. He said good data must be collected to make decisions.
Other transportation leaders involved in the National Roadway Safety Strategy Call to Action workshop and panel discussion were:
- U.S. Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg
- FHWA Deputy Administrator Andrew Rogers
- NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman
- FTA Deputy Administrator Veronica Vanterpool