April 3, 2024 BY Leah Shahumin News, Webinars

Integrating ‘Safe Vehicles’ into Local Vision Zero Work

Traditionally, vehicle safety has been considered a federal issue. So, understandably, many municipalities have shied away from including vehicle-related safety issues in their Vision Zero plans. But there are important ways that local communities can – and should – add this important Safe System component into their local road safety work.

Learn more and hear about examples of cities and regions across the nation (and world) taking on the topic of ‘Safe Vehicles in our March 14th webinar recording. Thanks to safety experts – Jessica Cicchino (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and Alex Epstein (Volpe Center) – for sharing their knowledge.

Watch the webinar recording and download Jessica Cicchino’s and Alex Epstein’s presentation slides.

We suggest two near-term strategies to start integrating Safe Vehicles into your local (or regional or state) Vision Zero work – detailed below.

1. Add Safe Vehicles to your Vision Zero Plan

A good place to start is by adding this important issue to your Vision Zero plan to lay the groundwork for ongoing efforts. Understandably, the Safe Vehicles realm is unlikely to be the major component of a municipality’s (or region’s) work, given the relatively limited control they have and the focus on other areas of the Safe System approach: Safe Speeds, Safe Roads, etc. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.

By including Safe Vehicles as a component of your plan, this can start to bring much-needed attention to the important role vehicle safety plays in advancing Vision Zero. This helps give a fuller picture of what’s needed and can help build momentum, over time, for change. For instance, raising awareness about the dangers of super-sized vehicles and irrationally high speeds may help local/regional/state leaders advocate for stronger vehicle safety regulations (Hello, National Highway Safety Administration, NHTSA…are you listening?). For example, read about CA State Senator Wiener’s proposed legislation to require ISA for all new vehicles sold or manufactured in California by 2027.

While we wait for action at the Federal level, there are steps that safety leaders can take. Prime examples of relatively low-cost, near-term actions communities can take include investing in fleet safety (see #2 below), incentivizing contracting companies to improve their fleets’ safety, and minimizing (or right-sizing) the size and use of fleet vehicles in its community needs.

Following are examples of cities including Safe Vehicles components in their Vision Zero Plans:

Jersey City's Vision Zero Action Plan
Jersey City's Vision Zero Action Plan

Houston's Vision Zero Action Plan
Houston's Vision Zero Action Plan

Denver's Vision Zero Action Plan
Denver's Vision Zero Action Plan

2. Lead by Example: Invest in Your Fleet’s Safety

A fast-growing Vision Zero best practice is prioritizing a community’s own fleet safety. This is a chance to lead by example and make notable safety investments in a relatively low-cost but impactful way.

Fleets often include large trucks which are disproportionately involved in fatal crashes. In 2021, there were 5,788 people killed in traffic crashes involving large trucks (13.4% of all fatalities). And, of course, these large vehicles are even more threatening to people walking and biking.

There are many simple, inexpensive tools – technologies, policies, and training improvements – that communities can use to make their fleet vehicles safer. Given that these public agency fleets are controlled by the public agencies themselves, this is a great – and simple – place to start investing in safer vehicles directly.

For these reasons, fleet safety can – and should – be elevated as a priority in local Vision Zero efforts. Proven safety features can be added to communities’ procurement process for new fleet vehicles or added as after-market modifications. Examples include the following: side guards; crash avoidance technology, such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection, and forward collision warning systems; white noise back-up alarms; a minimum direct vision standard; advanced camera systems; and speed management technology. Watch the recording above to learn more about readily available safety features. Need arguments of the effectiveness of these tools? Check out this IIHS resource.

Examples of Safe Fleet Vehicle practices

New York City leads the way in advancing fleet safety in the U.S. Check out its comprehensive Safe Fleet Transition Plan (a great model for other communities), which prioritizes a suite of vehicle-based safety equipment for its extensive municipal fleet.

After launching its Vision Zero campaign in 2014, the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (NYC DCAS) partnered with the Volpe Center (USDOT) to conduct a review of the safety of its municipal trucks and provided a set of recommendations. In 2015, NYC DCAS began installing side guards on its City fleet. By 2023, all large vehicles in the city were equipped with side guards. Impressive!

Since then, the City has upgraded more than 83,000 fleet vehicles with safety features such as side guards, automatic emergency braking, telematics, pedestrian collision warnings, alongside the installation of more than 2,000 surround camera systems.

In 2022, NYC launched an impressive Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) pilot in 50 fleet vehicles to reduce speeds and save lives. They later expanded the pilot to 300 vehicles, including 50 school buses. ISA technology restricts a vehicle's maximum speed, preventing it from exceeding local speed limits.

The pilot program is an important tool to regulate and standardize safe driving among city employees. Analysis in January 2024 of NYC’s ISA pilot program shows that fleet operators complied with speed limits 99% of the time and reduced instances of hard braking by 36%. To expand its ISA pilot, NYC secured a Safe Streets and Roads for All grant.

“Excessive speeding is one of the greatest safety risks,” said DCAS Deputy Commissioner and NYC Chief Fleet Officer Keith Kerman. “New York City is focused on reducing speeding through street redesign, enforcement, and speed cameras. DCAS is now taking the next step, leading the effort to design a vehicle that can’t and won’t speed in the first place.”

Interest in Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) is (finally!) spreading. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently recommended requiring ISA technology in all new cars. (We agree!) But federal regulatory action is moving frustratingly slowly. In contrast, local governments have the power to control their own vehicles – and they’re starting to use that power for good. In addition to those mentioned, other communities adding (or actively considering) ISA to their fleets, include the following: Ventura County, CA; Somerville, MA; King County, WA; Richmond, VA and others. Read about the significant benefits of ISA in these recently released recommendations from the Road to Zero and IIHS.

Some places, including Washington, D.C. and NY State are considering laws to require ISA in the vehicles of people convicted of serious, repeat speeding offenses. These would function similar to alcohol interlock systems that have proven helpful in many states in limiting drunk driving among repeat offenders.

Other communities are following NYC’s lead. The 2022 Massachusetts’ Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities requires changes in how public entities buy vehicles, ensuring they include new safety features (e.g. lateral protective devices and backup cameras) and do not include potentially dangerous add-ons (e.g., bull bars, bug shields, and chrome visors). This means that public fleet procurement documents and processes must be updated to align with these new safety requirements.

As part of its Vision Zero program, Boston is implementing a 2014 citywide ordinance, which mandates the installation of side guards, convex mirrors, cross-over mirrors, and blind-spot awareness decals on all city-owned trucks and those contracted by the city. This effort, propelled by high-profile tragedies and supported by pilot project data, improves safety around large trucks, especially for people walking and biking.

San Francisco has downsized some of its fleet. For example, it redesigned some fire trucks to better suit the needs of dense urban environments, such as Chinatown. And early in its Vision Zero commitment, the City started requiring a driver safety training course for all city-employed truck- and bus drivers, emphasizing safe operations of large vehicles in urban areas. Read more.

Now is the Time to Invest in Safer, Greener Fleets

Updating procurement standards to elevate vehicle safety may align well with plans to electrify fleets – a win-win for safety and sustainability. Funding for fleet safety may be available through various grant programs and other sources. Consider leveraging funding opportunities for electrification of fleets to also invest in proven safety features. Learn more.

No Fleet is Too Small for Safety

Some might think their communities’ fleets are too small to make a difference. But in a small community, even a small number of fleet vehicles can have an outsized impact on safety. It’s all relative. Remember, every fleet vehicle (especially large ones) that is made more safe is protecting agency staff who are driving and everyone around them, as well as setting a standard for others and normalizing the safe choice as the best choice.

In the end, investing in fleet safety is a tangible action that backs up proclamations that “safety is our highest priority” in a meaningful way.

What you can do right now

  1. Incorporate the Safe Vehicle component into your Vision Zero Action Plan. Need funding? Apply for the Supplemental planning category in the new federal Safe Streets and Roads for All grant.
  2. Update your community’s procurement standards to add vehicle safety technologies – and low-tech, high value features. NYC's Safe Fleet Transition Plan is a great model.
  3. Prioritize collaboration between your Vision Zero Task Force and various Fleet Management divisions to elevate the importance of improving vehicle safety to advance Vision Zero.
  4. Join America Walks’ new Safe Fleets Challenge, which encourages local governments to adopt ISA in their fleets.
  5. Think out of the box to address vehicle safety issues in your community. And please share your ideas with us. Examples around the world include: developing vehicle weight-based fees, reducing parking rates for compact vehicles, replacing some fleet trips made by motor vehicles with cargo bikes; and, of course, encouraging more active walking, biking & transit trips!

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