Tuesday, April 7, 2009
In the Transportation Research Board's latest issue of TR News (January-February 2009) I was pleased to see the article, “Safety Research on Highway Infrastructure and Operations: Improving Priorities, Coordination and Quality.” It summarizes the findings of TRB Special Report 292. This report calls for the establishment of a new Scientific Advisory Committee and development of a national research agenda, among other things. Both of these steps are entirely consistent with the AAA Foundation’s call for enhanced communication, coordination and collaboration that will be necessary to realize a more positive traffic safety culture in this country. Accordingly, I hope these recommendations do not “die on the vine.”
Obviously, I am delighted with yesterday's news that preliminary NHTSA data indicates that traffic fatalities for 2008 have gone down 9%. Unfortunately, our crash and exposure data bases are not sufficient for anyone to ascertain why this has happened. It is certainly logical to "assume" that some of it was due to reductions in driving linked to the economy, especially when you consider that some of the riskiest drivers, such as teens, might be the first to be affected by high gas prices. However, it also makes sense that tougher laws such as primary seat belt requirements and Graduated Driving Licensing, both of which have been proven to work, played a role. It's also logical to assume that the concerted efforts to make cars and roads safer over the past decade contributed as well. Nonetheless, I must ask, "Why haven't we invested enough in our data systems so that we could resolve this issue more easily?" I'm not sure of the answer but we must recognize the ambiguity in this area and understand how multiple factors can contribute to these statistics. And, finally, let us all not forget, even with nearly 3,750 fewer deaths this year, we still have a long way to go because 37,313 people still died and that is unacceptable.