Recommendations to the Incoming Administration: Vision Zero Priorities for Safe Mobility for All

In early December 2020, the Vision Zero Network shared the following recommendations and Vision Zero priorities with the Biden-Harris Transportation Transition Team.

As background, more than 45 communities in the U.S. have committed to Vision Zero in the past six years, joining a growing international movement recognizing the need for a paradigm shift in transportation safety efforts.

A commitment to Vision Zero is a moral and ethical imperative, but it is much more than rhetoric. Vision Zero is an evidence-based approach for making transportation decisions that can drastically reduce deaths and injuries. Other nations have reduced traffic deaths by 50% or more with Vision Zero policies and practices.

With an average 100 people dying each day in our country in preventable traffic crashes – that is 40,000 family members, friends, co-workers each year – we can and must shift our efforts to prioritize safe mobility for all. And Federal leadership will be key in this shift to save lives, while also advancing intertwined imperatives to improve the climate, our economy, and racial justice in our nation.

The Vision Zero Network offers the following recommendations – along with our enthusiastic support and assistance -- to the incoming Administration to ensure safe mobility for all:

Federal Leadership Can Save Lives

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  • Traffic crashes kill 40,000 people and injure 3 million every year in the U.S.
  • The number of people killed while walking is at a 30-year all-time high
  • Each one of the 100 lives lost each day in the U.S. is a loved one, a friend, a classmate
  • The U.S. ranks 42nd in per capita traffic fatalities out of 51 high-income nations
  • Traffic deaths and severe injuries are preventable

1. Commit to Vision Zero & Act to Prioritize Safety at the Federal Level

  • Within the first 100 days in office, commit the U.S. to a goal of zero traffic deaths by 2050, building on the national Road to Zero Plan.
  • Officially adopt and implement the Safe Systems approach in Federal transportation work and incentivize states to do the same. The Safe System approach underlies successful Vision Zero efforts. (Practical examples: Update roadway design guidelines and speed management guidelines based on Safe Systems approach.)
  • Develop and implement a national Vision Zero Action Plan, which lays out specific and measurable actions for USDOT agencies and other Federal actors, as well as integrating safe mobility efforts within other priorities, such as curbing climate change, boosting the economy, ensuring racial and economic justice, and investing in healthy transportation.
  • Set and work toward a national goal to reduce greenhouse gases via reduction of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) – a leading safety and climate threat – including incentivizing replacing traffic level-of-service standards with VMT reduction standards.
  • Appoint a senior-level USDOT official responsible for advancing the national Vision Zero agenda and measuring and reporting progress towards achieving objectives.
  • Revise existing safety “performance” measures, which allow states to set goals for increased traffic fatalities, and set strong expectations for safety progress with meaningful incentives and consequences.
  • Join with international partners to support the Stockholm Declaration for Global Road Safety.

2. Align Federal Funding with Vision Zero

  • Tie Federal funding to explicit safety goals and outcomes, as well as VMT reduction.
  • Prioritize safety strategies and outcomes as eligibility requirements in transportation funding and related economic stimulus packages, recognizing the current tragically high pedestrian death rate and the cost-effectiveness of smaller-scale investments that are, dollar for dollar, more effective at creating jobs than heavy infrastructure projects and can be initiated more quickly.
  • Enable Federal funding to be used toward effective speed management efforts, including automated speed enforcement, implemented and monitored to be racially- and economically-just.
  • Incentivize and fund local and regional safe mobility, or Vision Zero, plans.
  • Incentivize states’ modernization of State Highway Safety Plans to reflect the Safe Systems approach.
  • Develop and fund programs to help states and municipalities effectively manage speeds (i.e. street designs, policies, technology).

3. Address Racial, Income & Modal Disparities in Roadway Safety, Particularly Amongst People Walking

  • Recognizing that people of color & low-income people are disproportionately victims of pedestrian crashes, and that all people walking and bicycling disproportionately suffer in crashes, prioritize funding and Safe Systems strategies for these and other traditionally underserved communities.
  • Collect data and regularly, publicly report on disparities in mobility access and safety; set and work toward equitable safe mobility outcomes at the Federal level.
  • Incentivize states’ reporting, planning and funding activities to reflect and address the needs of all communities equitably.
  • Create and staff a high-level Office of Equity in the USDOT to oversee and prioritize these efforts, as states are increasingly doing.
  • Recognizing the harmful effects of systemic racism, including in the transportation system and particularly based on evidence of racial bias in traffic law enforcement, adopt the Safe Systems approach to prioritize strategies to reduce crashes and deaths through improved designs of the built environment and better speed management, reducing dependence on police-led traffic enforcement.
  • Analyze effectiveness and equity outcomes of current NHTSA & FHWA funding and programs, and based on findings, restructure to reflect modern priorities, including racial justice and equity.
  • Conduct a national study on the efficacy of armed traffic safety enforcement, identifying and sharing effective and racially just strategies that rely on safer alternatives.
  • Encourage a coordinated national evaluation of traffic law compliance and of strategies - especially Safe System approaches - to achieve compliance and improved safety without dependence on traffic stops and citations.
  • Allow greater flexibility of NHTSA funds to collect and analyze data on traffic safety stops, to ensure greater transparency and address concerns of racial profiling. And incentivize such analysis and transparency of traffic law enforcement programs funded by Federal agencies.

4. Cross-Cutting Vision Zero Priorities

  • Re-name and re-structure both FHWA and NHTSA to more appropriately reflect broader, inclusive focus areas (i.e. not just “highways”) and goals (safe mobility).
  • Update Federal approach to speed management programs to reflect the role of unsafe speeds as a leading cause of deaths and severe injuries, including revising Federal guidelines to replace current 85% speed-setting approach with a Safe Systems approach; requiring Federally funded projects to use context-sensitive best practices for speed-setting limits and roadway design; promoting automated speed enforcement camera programs with equity guidance; and encouraging adoption of vehicle technology to reduce or eliminate unsafe speeds.
  • Advance Federal vehicle safety regulations (modeled on international best practices), particularly those that protect vulnerable road users outside of the vehicle.
  • Develop and fund programs to support crash victims and their families, based on the 1984 Victims of Crime Act.
  • Provide guidelines to states on effective, equitable, and appropriate post-crash response.

With strong leadership at the Federal level, we are confident that the U.S. can become a worldwide leader in traffic safety and ensure mobility choices that benefit our environment, our economy, and our values for equal opportunities and justice for all.