Urge President Biden & Secretary Buttigieg to Set Goal of #ZeroTrafficDeaths

by Leah Shahum February 1, 2021 in Families for Safe Streets, News

Prioritize Effective & Equitable Mobility for All

Today, an estimated 100 people will die in the U.S. while walking, biking, driving or taking transit. These are sons and daughters, parents, grandparents, beloved aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors. And tomorrow, another 100 people. Each day, another 100. Over the course of one year, 40,000 of our loved ones lose their lives in preventable traffic crashes and millions more are seriously injured. And, traffic deaths are the leading cause of death of youth in this country.

But it does not have to be this way. Sign the letter today calling on President Biden and his team to set and advance the goal of #ZeroTrafficDeaths in the U.S. by 2050.

This campaign — led by Vision Zero Network, Families for Safe Streets, Road to Zero Coalition, and Toward Zero Deaths — harnesses the urgent calls for action across the nation. We ask you to sign on in support of the first-ever national commitment to #ZeroTrafficDeaths as an individual and/or on behalf of your company, organization or community. Join mayors and other electeds, business leaders including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and leaders in environmental, youth, public health, and social justice groups across the nation — all calling for strong Federal leadership to prioritize safety on our streets. (See a list of current supporters.)

Why Now?

We recognize that our nation and the Administration face monumental challenges, including major public health, environmental, economic, and racial justice crises that must be addressed. Just as the pandemic sweeping the nation and the world brings much-needed attention to the interconnectedness of important issues — such as public health, climate, economic and racial justice — we also see the need to also make systemic changes in our everyday transportation safety.

The epidemic of traffic violence is one for which there are proven solutions (see more below). We need stepped-up leadership at all levels, including Federal, State and local governments.

The transportation sector can be part of the nation’s effort to Build Back Better by ensuring our Federal government sets policies, distributes funding, and rewards practices that advance the intertwined goals of improving the climate, growing our economy, and addressing racial justice in our nation -— all while working to stem the ongoing public health crisis of 40,000 preventable traffic deaths each year.

Do you want to see how a focus on safe, everyday transportation — especially for our most vulnerable — can be part of the solution to challenges facing our nation and the world? Please sign the letter now.

Is Zero the Right Goal? 

As with any public health crisis causing avoidable pain, suffering, and loss, the ethical goal is safety for all people. Not some, but all. Would we feel “satisfied” by ultimately ensuring safety from the coronavirus for only 60% of the U.S. population? Is our long-term goal for only 75% of people suffering from cancer to survive? Is our target for reducing gun violence 85%? No. For all of these important issues, we set and work toward the goal of 100% health and safety. And we can and should set and work toward the goal of ensuring safety for all people walking, biking, taking transit and driving.

Think about whether it was your family member or friend — or yourself — who was left out by dismissing zero as too lofty a goal. This brief video reminds us that there is no one someone won’t miss. And these powerful stories from those have lost loved ones, including Latanya Byrd, to show the urgency of acting now. Watch this powerful video from Families for Safe Streets reminding us of the urgency of Vision Zero.

And when we set the ambitious goal of zero traffic deaths, we not only think differently (see Crash not Accident), we also act differently. Our elected leaders, such as Mayor Turner of Houston and City Councilmember Shirley Gonzales of San Antonio, make decisions differently when it comes to setting policies to prioritize safety over speed, increasing funding under-served communities’ safety, and directing engineers and planners to make space for road users walking, biking and using wheelchairs, not just those driving.

This is a paradigm shift — based on Safe Systems principles – that moves us away from the misguided belief that we can perfect human behavior, or that we can enforce or educate our way out of this problem. We cannot. Not only is that approach ineffective for traffic safety, the nation’s historic over-emphasis on enforcement leads to racial and economic biases and injustices, which worsen conditions for already under-served communities, especially communities of color and low-income communities.

Can We Achieve Zero?

Not only is Vision Zero (and the Safe Systems approach underlying it) the ethically responsible way to structure our decision making around traffic safety and related goals, it is also a more effective way.

Analysis of traffic fatalities in 53 nations, conducted by the World Resources Institute, found that those adopting a Safe Systems-based approach, such as Vision Zero, achieved both the lowest rates of traffic fatalities and the largest reduction in fatalities over 20 years (1994 – 2015). (Source: Sustainable & Safe: A Vision and Guidance for Zero Road Deaths, World Resources Institute)

By neglecting to embrace proven approaches to traffic safety and by failing to step up our political leadership, the U.S. has failed in ensuring people safe, healthy, equitable mobility options. Meanwhile, others across the globe are embracing the Safe Systems approach and modernization of policies and practices that have led to steady increases in safety, including these nations in South America and the Carribean. In fact, the U.S. ranks 42nd out of 51 high-income nations for per capita traffic fatalities.

And we are falling behind with communities that have been under-served for too long by our transportation system. In the U.S., those most impacted by traffic crashes and the current systems that do not effectively prioritize safety for all include people walking and biking; youth and the elderly; and communities of color and people in low-income communities. (Read more in the Complete Streets Coalition’s report, Dangerous by Design.)

How Do We Do It?

Taking the Safe Systems/Vision Zero approach is proving successful in many places, largely because it takes a public health approach to addressing the broken systems, not blaming individuals for unsafe environments or outdated policies related to managing speed or over-relying on problematic enforcement strategies. And, it’s the ethical thing to do if we believe that no one deserves to die on our streets, sidewalks, or bikeways. So, what do we do now?

Dangerous by Design, 2020, Complete Streets Coalition

We can start by setting the #ZeroTrafficDeaths goal at the Federal level (as have more than 45 municipalities and regions across the nation), and laying out plans and priorities to get there — prioritizing effectiveness and equity. This report, The Road to Zero, lays out a framework for reaching zero traffic deaths in the U.S. by 2050 and was endorsed by a wide range of safety advocacy groups, professional organizations and researchers. It includes three major focus areas:

  • Doubling down on what works through proven, evidence-based strategies that support equity;
  • Advancing life-saving technology in vehicles and infrastructure; and
  • Prioritizing safety by adopting a Safe Systems Approach that ties federal funding to saving lives and sets national road safety mandates.

The Vision Zero Network calls for some additional actions and changes to the current system — as shared in our Recommendations to the Incoming Administration — including shifting away from police-led enforcement to prevent racial biases and racial and economic injustices that are deeply rooted in our criminal justice system. And we stand with our partners at Families for Safe Streets in calling for support of crash victims, like victims of other crimes, even when drivers are not criminally charged.

What Can You Do Today?

Please sign the letter and learn more about ways to support changes to ensure safety on our streets, sidewalks, and bikeways, including:

  • Share your story if they’ve been impacted by a traffic crash — can you make a brief video or other message to share with the President?  (Details here)
  • Are you an elected or community or business leader committed to Vision Zero? Add your voice to the national campaign for #ZeroTraffic deaths. (Details here)
  • And share these opportunities for support with your broader community.

A commitment by President Biden and his team to prioritize safety as part of their commitment to Build Back Better will set the tone at the Federal level and advance the proven policies and practices needed to prevent tragedies and to ensure safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all.


Read about the important advocacy being led by Families for Safe Streets here.

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