As I did last year on these pages, I must begin my "Put the Brakes on Fatalities" message by thanking the folks at the Kansas DOT, who put this valuable series together every year. The combination of professional guidance and personal narratives you'll read here for the next 20 days is powerful persuasion that all of us can --and should-- work together every day to make our roads safer for all who use them.
Last year, I wrote about the importance of individual decisions--the decision not to drink and drive, the decision to put your phone away when you're behind the wheel, the decision to keep your eye out for bicyclists and pedestrians. And in a world where we know that more than 90 percent of all crashes are due in part to human error, there's no question that our individual choices and actions have the greatest direct impact on road safety.But, precisely because driver error plays such a critical role in safety, we see a host of opportunities to improve highway design and automotive technology to help drivers perform better.
One year ago, for example, I asked our regional offices to assist local communities in every state with bicycle-pedestrian safety assessments. These assessments shine attention on the good and the bad in bike-ped networks, and help local planners identify areas that need design upgrades. We’re talking about the basics: well-connected, adequate sidewalks; well-marked roadway crossings; lighting; trees and other traffic buffers; and signage.
Also at the design level, the Federal Highway Administration has funded a wide range of interchange reconstruction projects that reduce traffic delays even as they improve safety for people getting on and off highways. And we've been hard at work improving safety on rural roadways, funding projects like the Three-County Road Improvements Program in Mississippi, where MDOT is using a single USDOT TIGER grant to modernize 41 miles of roads and 18 substandard bridges.
Even something as basic as developing new pavement materials can pay significant safety dividends. For example, High-Friction Surface (HFS) treatments --part of the Federal Highway Administration's “Every Day Counts” program-- have been saving lives by making pavement less slick when it rains. One particular stretch of road in Pennsylvania was the site of 20 wet-pavement-related crashes in the decade prior to HFS treatment. Since HFS was added in 2007, there have been no crashes. Zero. And one interchange in Milwaukee has seen only 9 crashes in the three years since HFS was installed, compared with 219 in the three years prior.
Safety improvements are also coming to our vehicles. Connected Vehicles --vehicles that "see" and "talk" to each other-- offer a very strong possibility of eliminating a large number of crashes each year. This technology lets cars broadcast their position, speed, and other data to vehicles within a few hundred yards. Then, other cars can use that information to build a detailed picture of what’s unfolding around them and alert drivers to possible trouble before it becomes a threat to safety.
Imagine a future where your car can see what you can't, and can warn you of a potential crash or icy roads ahead. Thanks to our Connected Vehicles research, that future is not as far off as it sounds. And we're also taking steps to make sure this safety technology makes its way into vehicles even sooner by accelerating the timetable to require vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technologies in new cars and ensuring that our regulations encourage deployment of innovations like V2V that increase safety.
The stories you'll be reading here in the next 20 days will make it clear that there is no substitute for safe, alert drivers. And the innovations above can help drivers make better decisions and fewer errors.
Your U.S. Department of Transportation is committed to infrastructure and vehicles that do their part to Put the Brakes on Fatalities.
Anthony Foxx is the United States Secretary of Transportation