A Road to Zero Uses What Works, Advanced Tech & Priorities

The Road to Zero Coalition, managed by the National Safety Council, released a comprehensive report laying out strategies for ending roadway deaths in the United States by 2050. It is the first time in the nation’s history that so many organizations have collaborated to put forth a comprehensive plan to address motor vehicle fatalities, which have recently increased after years of decline.

The Coalition, in a report written by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution, identified three main initiatives to reduce roadway fatalities:

  • Double down on what works through proven, evidence-based strategies;
  • Advance life-saving technology in vehicles and infrastructure; and
  • Prioritize safety by adopting a safe systems approach and creating a positive safety culture.

“We demand 100 percent safe operations in aviation, marine, pipeline, rail and transit, we should cultivate a corresponding societal demand for safe roads,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “With these three guidelines, everyone can do something to reduce fatalities on the roadway. Getting to zero fatalities is not impossible – it just hasn’t been done yet.”

The report, A Road to Zero: A vision for achieving zero roadway deaths by 2050, is released in the midst of national discussions about motor vehicle safety issues such as highly and fully automated vehicles, investing in infrastructure, distracted driving, and alcohol- and drug-impaired driving. The country also is observing April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the traffic safety community is preparing for the annual Lifesavers Conference, which is the largest gathering of traffic safety professionals in the United States. Deborah Hersman – president and CEO of the National Safety Council and chair of the Road to Zero Coalition – will discuss the report and call on stakeholders to embrace their role during her keynote speech at the conference’s Opening Plenary on Sunday, April 22, in San Antonio.

In the short term, the report stresses enforcing and strengthening current traffic safety laws, providing new resources for traffic safety researchers and practitioners, and supporting those who design and build roads and vehicles.

Widespread use of fully automated vehicles is still several decades away. While technology is being rapidly developed, it will take many years for cars with new technology to replace conventional vehicles. In the report, the Coalition proposes accelerating the benefits of new technologies by creating partnerships between public safety and health groups and industry professionals that could identify incentives for faster adoption and focus on applications with the greatest safety benefit.

The report also encourages the United States to prioritize safety by fostering a safety culture and adopting a safe systems approach. Many businesses have made great improvements in fatality and injury rates through adopting a safety culture, and a number of cities have adopted a Vision Zero strategy incorporating the safe systems approach that accommodates human error. But to be fully effective, these ideas need to spread across the country.

“The safe systems approach has saved lives in other countries. Sweden reduced the number of traffic deaths by more than half since the approach was introduced,” said Liisa Ecola, a senior policy analyst at RAND and lead author of the report. “This shows that we in the U.S. can make large strides in traffic safety with existing technologies and policies.”

The Road to Zero Steering Group has been integral to the creation of this report. This group includes the National Safety Council, AAA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, Association of Global Automakers, Inc., Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Governors Highway Safety Association, Institute of Transportation Engineers, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Intelligent Car Coalition, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, National Association of City Transportation Officials, National Association of County Engineers, National Association of State Emergency Medical Services Officials, and Vision Zero Network. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are ex officio members of the steering group.

The Road to Zero Coalition also supports innovative strategies through the Safe System Innovation grants. Funding was provided in 2017 and 2018.