Reducing Fatalities and Severe Injuries with the National Roadway Safety Strategy
Nearly 95 percent of transportation-related deaths in the United States occur on streets, roads, and highways. NHTSA estimates that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes nationwide in 2021. Vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for teenagers across the U.S. and disproportionally impact African Americans, Native Americans, and those living in rural communities.
The National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) is a collaborative effort between the Office of the Secretary for Transportation (OST) and the Operating Administrations (OAs) whose responsibilities include roadway safety. The NRSS sets a vision of zero roadway deaths and identifies tangible Departmental actions to reduce the number of deaths each year. As part of the NRSS, the U.S. DOT adopted the Safe System Approach, which includes five elements—Safer People, Safer Roads, Safer Vehicles, Safer Speeds, and Post-Crash Care—and acknowledges that humans make mistakes, and redundancy is critical.
The Safe System Approach includes the following key elements:
- Responsibility Is Shared. All stakeholders—including every level of federal government, industry, non-profit organizations, advocacy groups, researchers, and the general public—are essential for preventing transportation-related deaths and serious injuries.
- Safety Is Proactive. Proactive tools should be used to identify and address transportation-related safety issues beforehand, rather than reacting after a crash has occurred.
- Redundancy Is Crucial. Reducing risks requires strengthening every part of the transportation system, so that if one part fails, other parts are still capable of protecting people.
The NRSS seeks a sustained and concerted effort from all sectors and levels of government, the public and private sector, advocacy, and research. A U.S. DOT Volpe Center team designed the NRSS website and created the NRSS Dashboard using Tableau software for quarterly reporting on 29 U.S. DOT actions across the five elements of the Safe Systems Approach. This U.S. DOT Volpe Center team also developed a set of data visualizations to better communicate the magnitude of our roadway safety crisis with the public and provided analysis and policy development support to OST Office of Policy (OST-P) in crafting the NRSS, including substantial OA coordination. In January 2023, U.S. DOT released a report detailing key accomplishments from 2022, new commitments that the Department is making in 2023 and beyond, and the NRSS Call to Action, which includes commitments to act from more than 40 private and public sector partners.
The U.S. DOT Volpe Center collaborated with OST-P to hold a community forum in April 2022 to update stakeholders on progress toward executing actions outlined in the NRSS, solicit input, and promote ownership across stakeholder groups. Over 50 stakeholders participated, spanning advocacy organizations, the public and private sector, and state and local government.
U.S. DOT’s commitments to the Safe System Approach included in the NRSS are a critical first step toward reducing roadway fatalities. Combined with significant safety-focused investments provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), U.S. DOT’s actions offer an approach to significantly reduce roadway deaths and serious injuries. However, including commitments from the stakeholder community is the final critical step to putting U.S. DOT on a pathway to zero fatalities by 2050. The U.S. DOT Volpe Center will support this ongoing work over the next few years.
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