Too many fatalities

Road traffic deaths are on the rise, plus a deal has been struck on infrastructure

Tim Bruns / June 25, 2021 / 3 minute read
Tim Bruns

It can be said with very little dispute that 2020 was a tough year ... though most would argue this is quite the understatement.

The most obvious reason for this would be the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has taken over 600,000 lives in the U.S. alone since March 2020. While COVID has been top of mind in terms of life-threatening dangers over the past year, traffic safety leaders have also seen a trend of higher roadway fatalities in 2020.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this month released estimates that show approximately 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year—the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007. This data lines up with a Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report from late March 2021 that showed the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate rose 20% in the first six months of 2020.

NHTSA said that while Americans drove less in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the reported number of fatalities last year represents an increase of about 7.2% as compared to the 36,096 fatalities reported in 2019. The administration’s analysis showed that the main behaviors that drove the increase in fatalities included impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear a seat belt.

Meanwhile, the big news this week is that President Biden has just reached a deal with a bipartisan group of Senators on infrastructure. The framework from this deal would include $312 billion for transportation—$109 billion set aside for roads, bridges, and major projects; $11 billion for safety projects; $49 billion for public transit; and $7.5 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure. The next step is to see if the legislation crafted from this plan can pass both the House and the Senate, and what it might mean for Biden’s larger economic proposal.

While it’s good to see the plan still includes funding for road safety projects and public transit, this plan represents a significant reduction compared to the original American Jobs Plan, which proposed $20 billion for safety and $85 billion to modernize public transportation. With traffic fatalities on the rise, it stands to reason that our country should invest more in increasing roadway safety and strengthening our public transit systems—both of which can help to reduce road traffic crashes and deaths overall.

In other news this month:

  • Nuria Fernandez was confirmed as the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, becoming the first Senate-confirmed woman of color to lead FTA, and the first confirmed Administrator in over a decade.
  • The results of a year-long program aimed at curbing traffic incidents on Southern Nevada roads showed an 18% reduction in primary crashes and a 43% reduction in the percentage of speeding drivers along key corridors on I-15 and U.S. 95 in Southern Nevada.
  • The City of Columbus recently completed its five-year Smart Columbus program, which aimed to demonstrate how an intelligent transportation system and equitable access to transportation can have positive impacts on everyday challenges faced by cities.
  • And finally, ITS America and AASHTO this month filed an appeal of the FCC’s November 2020 order regarding unlicensed devices in the 5.9 GHz spectrum band. The associations took this action to ensure V2X technologies can continue to safely operate throughout the 5.9 GHz band.

Turning now to this month’s features: we have a piece that takes a look at how the California High-Speed Rail Authority and its partners are attempting to bring high-speed rail to the Golden State. If all goes according to plan, the system would allow passengers to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco at speeds of up to 220 mph, making the trip in just 2 hours and 40 minutes, compared to almost 6 hours by automobile. The project is currently under construction, with 119 miles of infrastructure being implemented in the Central Valley across 33 active construction sites. Read more in the feature “Paving the way for high-speed rail in the U.S.”

In our second feature, Alan Davis with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) discusses how implementing signal priority strategies through V2X continues to provide benefits to public sector fleets in the Peach State. In 2015, GDOT modernized its statewide traffic signal framework by upgrading software in over 8,000 traffic signals. This system is the backbone of the state’s traffic signals and enables both V2X applications as well as advanced operational strategies like transit signal priority (TSP). Read more in the feature “Signal priority in Georgia and V2X as a solution.”

Finally, a 3M representative and two traffic engineers in Minnesota look at “Setting a wet reflective pavement marking specification.” The feature explains that wet reflective pavement markings are engineered to counteract the effects of water and can significantly improve road safety. This article also explores how the Minnesota DOT funded a study to observe human factors impacting pavement marking visibility as well as how traffic engineers in St. Louis County, Minnesota are widely deploying and maintaining visible road markings throughout the county road system—especially wet reflective pavement markings and 6-in.-wide edgeline markings.

As always, please enjoy this month’s coverage. Thanks for reading! 

About the Author

Bruns is associate managing editor of Traffic & Transit.

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