These days there is a lot of buzz in Washington about “change” and about the economic stimulus package designed to revive the economy. Within the highway community there is more than the usual debate going on relative to “meaningful projects, shovel ready projects, legacy efforts and earmarks, among other hot topics.”
Unfortunately, there is much less talk about my favorite topic – highway safety! In fact, I have heard almost no public discussion of it. This further underscores for me the current “culture of complacency” whereby motorists, legislatures, and the public at large seem willing to accept 40,000 highway deaths each year as the cost we need to pay to enjoy our mobility. And, it further reaffirms the need for the Foundation’s initiatives that we hope will eventually lead to a new, more positive, traffic safety culture.
Most traffic safety professionals believe that as much as 50% of the highway carnage could be eliminated if we had the political courage to enact proven highway safety measures. And, that ultimately achieving those successes will require a system’s approach that strives for safer drivers in safer vehicles on safer roads. The current economic stimulus package represents a golden opportunity to substantially realize “safer roads.” Through years of research, development and evaluations we have “shovel ready” road safety improvements that could quickly be implemented across the country. And, this work would not only create construction jobs but, more importantly, it would save lives.
For example, AASHTO recently published “Driving Down Lane-Departure Crashes: A National Priority,” that most convincingly documents that relatively simple engineering improvements, such as pavement edge rumble strips, centerline rumble strips, and cable median barriers, have all been proven to be very effective in preventing serious crashes associated with lane departures, a category of crashes that account for 25,000 deaths each year. For example, since Missouri installed cable median barriers, they have seen a 96 percent reduction in deaths caused by vehicles crossing the median into opposing traffic on two interstate highways. These and similar highway safety improvement efforts should be a vital component of any economic stimulus program!