According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on average more than 41,000 people have died annually on America's roadways over the past decade. One key factor jeopardizing travelers is the inadequate capacity in our basic roadway infrastructure. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1982 the U.S. population has grown 31%. During that same period, vehicle miles of travel rose by 88%; yet, total U.S. road capacity (as measured by lane miles) has increased by only 6%. More cars crowded together on roadways frustrate drivers into minimizing following distances and adopting more aggressive driving styles, ARTBA said in testimony submitted at a Senate Environment & Public Works Committee hearing.
ARTBA told senators the nation’s goal should be to develop a "zero-fatality" roadway infrastructure environment, but that it will require new thinking. To date, U.S. transportation policy accepts the fact that we have an imperfect system and we try to reduce the unsafe consequences of that system.
“Our policy should seek to develop a transportation system that contains zero predictable crashes with severe consequences, beginning with the major networks and following with all other roadways to the extent practicable,” the association said.
This vision, ARTBA noted, will require a paradigm shift on two parallel tracks:
· The focus of reducing incidents on America's transportation system must be viewed as reducing severity of injuries as opposed to reducing the number of crashes; and
· The policy anticipates user errors and emphasizes design, construction and maintenance of a system that will be "forgiving" of errant behavior.
While the zero-fatalities goal may take years to achieve, ARTBA said there are more immediate steps that can be taken in the new authorization bill, including:
· Dedicated funding/performance standards;
· Work-zone safety;
· Passenger/commercial motor vehicle separation;
· Designing and operating roadways to meet the needs of older drivers;
· States should be free to utilize innovative methods, or equipment that could improve safety, reduce congestion or increase the quality and durability of highways; and
· Increasing investment levels of research programs and promoting development and implementation of new technologies will significantly reduce the number and severity of crashes in a cost-effective manner.