The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) April 9 called for a fundamental shift in how the nation approaches road safety, emphasizing the need to design and build a transportation network that better compensates for error so that drivers, passengers, workers and other road users don't pay for behavioral mistakes with their lives.
The association submitted written testimony to a House Highway & Transit Subcommittee hearing, "Every Life Counts: Improving Safety of our Nation's Roadways."
Rather than the usual federal focus on reducing the number of crashes by improving motorists' behavior, ARTBA said a new paradigm is needed on two parallel tracks:
A focus on reducing incidents on America's transportation system must be viewed as reducing severity of injuries as opposed to reducing the number of crashes.
The policy should anticipate user errors and emphasizes design, construction and maintenance of a system that will be "forgiving" of errant behavior.
"We have the technology and ‘know how' to build our roadway system to anticipate user error," ARTBA's testimony said. "It can be designed, constructed, equipped and operated to forgive the errant user and protect the innocent victim."
More than 37,000 people were killed in 2017 U.S. traffic crashes, including roadway workers, cyclists, and pedestrians, according to the most recently available data. Work zone fatalities increased to 799 in 2017 from 586 in 2010.
The association focused its remarks specifically on highway work zone safety. It reminded Congress that through federal rulemaking after the 2005 SAFETEA-LU surface transportation law and further provisions in both the 2012 MAP-21 and 2015 FAST Act laws, lawmakers and previous administrations have expressed the intent to use increased positive separation (i.e. physical barriers) between workers and motorists on construction projects.
"The law has not been fully implemented and positive separation is still not used as regularly as Congress intended," ARTBA said. "New products and technologies are available that make the practice more practical and cost-effective."
ARTBA's testimony comes in the backdrop of annual National Work Zone Awareness Week activities, which are aimed at highlighting the public safety risks of driving through road construction sites.
"Improved safety on America's roadways is a critically important goal. With limited resources it is imperative that Congress review all the means available for saving lives and use those resources in a manner that is most effective — both now and in the long term," ARTBA's testimony concluded. "Investment in improved roadway infrastructure is a proven means to achieve this goal, and will be effective independent of an individual's behavior, whether he or she decides to act responsibly, or chooses to drive impaired, distracted or fatigued."
Read the full ARTBA statement.