A Promising Future
In 2020, the number of people killed on our Nation’s roadways was the highest since 2007, and early estimates of fatalities for the first half of 2021 reflect the largest six-month increase in fatalities ever. Similarly, over the past decade, the proportion—and number—of fatalities occurring outside a vehicle dramatically increased. Given these increases, countless families and friends have suffered the unimaginable loss of loved ones to traffic-related crashes. These troubling trends have prompted transportation professionals to begin reexamining their approach to safety.
This unacceptable loss of life highlights the limitations of our traditional transportation strategies and emphasizes that our approach to roadway safety must change. At the Federal Highway Administration, we are pivoting to the Safe System Approach—an internationally recognized and successful practice that sets an ethical imperative that no one should die or be seriously injured on roadways. The Safe System Approach centers on humans, regardless of their mode of travel, and requires proactively building redundant layers of protection. The human body is vulnerable; as such, there is only so much kinetic energy transfer it can withstand. Under the Safe System Approach, the transportation network is designed and operated in a way that minimizes serious injuries and fatalities in crashes.
Particularly troubling is the dramatic increase in the number of pedestrians killed by motor vehicles. These fatalities have increased over the last decade by approximately 50 percent. Moreover, research shows that people walking in lower-income areas are more likely to be struck and killed than people walking in higher-income neighborhoods. Similarly, studies have demonstrated that persons with disabilities, racial minorities, gender minorities, children, older adults, and other underserved communities are at a higher risk of dying or being injured in a crash. They also have less access to affordable, quality, and accessible transportation choices. Because of these increased risks, the topics of both equity and pedestrian safety are intertwined in many of the articles within this issue.
The Safe System Approach also stresses that safety is everyone’s responsibility (even if the word “safety” isn’t in our job title). The Safe System Approach offers a promising future; imagine a world where no one dies from vehicle crashes. Tested and proven strategies in engineering countermeasures hold much promise to save lives and prevent serious injuries. Notably, results from Australia, Sweden, and Norway—early adopters of Safe System approaches—show that fatalities on our roadways can be prevented. You can read more about the Safe System Approach in “Making our Roads Safer through a Safe System Approach” (on page 3).
This special issue of Public Roads also elaborates on FHWA’s efforts to integrate the Safe System Approach into our portfolio to comprehensively address safe roads and safe speeds (see “The Highway Safety Improvement Program: Paving the Road to a Safer Future” on page 8). Our partners at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—with whom we work closely to advance the Safe System Approach—detail their work in addressing safe vehicles, road users, and post-crash care (on page 18). We highlight Safe System examples from States and cities as well as international partners (on pages 30 and 36, respectively). Finally, the issue provides insight into “Speed Management Is Key to Road Safety” (on page 24) and the Hot Topic focuses on “Bringing Human Factors Research Into the Next Era” (on page 2).
By embracing the Safe System Approach, we are embracing a safer and brighter future on our roadways.
Cheryl J. Walker
Associate Administrator for Safety
Federal Highway Administration.