Ahead of the busy summer travel season, the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, which I have chaired since the Democrats took the majority, had an early hearing on road safety. Increases in traffic-related fatalities and injuries have made passenger and traffic safety a top priority for me for the upcoming reauthorization of the surface transportation bill. Astonishingly, there was a 10% increase in fatalities in just one year between 2016 and 2017 and a 40% increase in the last 10 years. To be sure, roadways are becoming more congested, but we must unravel what appears to be a confluence of causes.
There is much we do know about causes and prevention. Alcohol, speed, and distracted driving contributed to nearly two-thirds of all traffic-related fatalities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also recommended stricter enforcement of seatbelt laws, as a not-so-surprisingly 47% of all passengers killed in motor vehicles were not using a restraint. Technology has made vehicles far safer in the last 20 years, showing that remedies to reach passengers, not vehicles themselves, may be the biggest challenge.
Beyond human error, our upcoming reauthorization must take on new issues, particularly structural improvements that can make our roads safer. As streets and roads are renewed, we intend to increase support for pedestrian, bicycle, and scooter infrastructure, on recreational trails and protected routes – often referred to as “complete streets.” Our streets and roads need nothing less than new configurations to ensure they can safely handle all forms of traffic flow.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Highways & Transit, represents the District of Columbia in the U.S. House of Representatives. In April, the subcommittee hosted a hearing titled, “Every Life Counts: Improving the Safety of our Nation’s Roadways.”