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NTSB Chair Calls for New Approach to Highway Safety

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer L. Homendy is calling for a fundamental change in the nation’s approach to highway safety in the face of increasing crash and fatality numbers.

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In a keynote address to the recent Governors Highway Safety Association conference, Homendy said the “Safe System” approach to highway safety embraced by other nations has led to reduced fatalities and crashes. Moving to a Safe System approach is on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation improvements.

“The carnage on our roads has to stop. You know it, and I know it,” Homendy told safety advocates. “The current approach, which favors automobiles and punishes only drivers for crashes, is clearly not working. If we are going to get to zero fatalities, we will have to do something different.”

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Homendy, sworn in last month as the 15th chair of the NTSB, has long championed the Safe System approach. She is hosting a series of roundtable discussions on the approach this year.

Homendy said national highway safety numbers from last year showed we are going in the wrong direction: Alcohol-involved crashes up 9%, speeding-related crashes up 11%, motorcycle fatalities up 9% and occupant ejections up 20%.

“The Safe System approach is a shift in the way we think about traffic safety,” Homendy said. “We’ve spent decades planning, designing, building and operating our road system for the efficient movement of people and goods, rather than safety. And we’ve spent decades developing countermeasures and behavioral interventions that are targeted at individuals, rather than the entire system. Let’s take speeding. Does the responsibility for speeding just fall on the driver or did the system, as a whole, fail that driver? Did the road design encourage high speeds? How about ill-conceived federal guidance that leads to ever-increasing speed limits in states? How about states which fail to give local authorities the ability to set lower speed limits? Vehicle manufacturers who design vehicles that can exceed 100 mph or that have no speed limiters. The Safe System approach considers all this and more.”

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