by Leah Shahum March 2, 2021 in News

Federal Funding for Policing Traffic Safety Questioned

We were encouraged to learn about a Congressional hearing in late February examining problems of racial bias in police-led enforcement and related funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). You can watch the hearing at the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Hearing here.

In our letter to the Congress members, which you can read here, we shared our serious concerns about the way police-led traffic enforcement strategies are used – and, too often, abused – in the U.S. And this includes the role that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) plays. 

We urged Congress to use its policymaking and funding authority to help ensure that federal policies and funds support effective and equitable strategies to promote safety on our roads, sidewalks and bikeways. And we shared recommendations for alternative strategies.

We also recommended that NHTSA — and other government traffic safety agencies — pivot from the traditional “E’s” approach of traffic safety (Education, Enforcement, Engineering, etc.) to the Safe Systems approach, which prioritizes improving the underlying systems and policies that center safety for all road users – such as Complete Streets, lower speed limits, and practices and policies that focus on proactively making safe behaviors on the road the easy and obvious choices for road users. 

What can Vision Zero supporters do in their own communities to support these efforts? Here are a few ideas:

  • Write your Congress member to encourage them to re-examine how NHTSA (and other federally funded agencies) are supporting problematic systems that have track records of racial bias and police violence.
  • Contact your state’s Office of Traffic Safety to find out what funding it applies for and receives from NHTSA. Are the programs really the highest and best use? Are they equitable and effective? If not, bring them new ideas and proposals for alternative strategies, such as investing in community engagement of traffic safety problem-solving.

Learn more about NHTSA’s funding streams, as they currently stand, and ongoing concerns about racial bias in enforcement programs. Pay special attention to Section 1906 funds, which encourage States to enact and enforce laws that prohibit the use of racial profiling in the enforcement of traffic laws on Federal-aid highways, and to maintain and allow public inspection of statistics on motor vehicle stops. This is not a funding source that many States apply for, but could and should, so we encourage you to help your State consider doing so.


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