NACTO Designing Cities Conference

​​​​Thank you, Janette — not only for that kind introduction, but for your visionary approach to rethinking, reinvigorating, and redesigning cities to make streets safe for everyone. 

Corinne: thank you for making safety NACTO’s top priority and for re-inviting me here today! I don’t put many things on my calendar a year in advance, but this conference is one of them because you’ve built it into a “can’t-miss” event for everyone who’s fighting for zero on our roads.

It's a fight you know all too well. 

A fight you know we’re losing. 

What else do you call it when 43,000 people die every year on our roads? 

When millions more are injured?

When pedestrians die on our streets twice as often as other comparable nations? 

When Black, Brown, and Indigenous road users die on our streets at much higher rates than white road users? 

And yet, despite the uphill battle for change and heart-wrenching conversations with bereaved families…we’re here. 

We show up. 

Because the public health crisis on our roads is 100% preventable. I know it. You know it. 

It’s why you’re here today — and why YOU show up for safety every day alongside us. Thank you! Every road user and the NTSB owes you a debt of gratitude. 

I’ve long said that we need a paradigm shift — a total transformation — in how we address the increasing death on our nation’s roads. 

We need a shift from the traditional approach that has focused almost exclusively on education and enforcement, which is failing all road users. 

That paradigm shift is the Safe System Approach. 

Among other things, the Safe System Approach recognizes that everyone shares responsibility for road safety…all stakeholders.

That includes all levels of government. 

I meet with state and local transportation officials like you in my travels, both at home and abroad. I often leave those meetings amazed by your strong safety leadership. 

For example: I didn’t just experience world-class pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Helsinki; I felt the difference…felt safer…in a culture that prioritizes safety and people over cars.

Is anyone here from Bellevue, Washington?

Last fall, I got to see how you’re improving infrastructure for those who walk, bike, and roll. I learned about how you’re using connected vehicle technology to make streets safer and more accessible for all road users. 

And it’s not just roads. 

In March, I was deeply affected by the transportation officials I met in East Palestine, Ohio — the site of February’s train derailment and hazmat release.

My point is that city transportation officials — you — are certainly doing your part to get us to zero! 

I wish I could stand here and say that all our partners are doing everything in their power to advance road safety…to combat:

  • ​Impaired driving, which kills about 10,000 people annually on our roads. 
  • Speeding, which kills about 12,000 people annually.
  • Distraction, which kills about 3,000 people annually — a number that’s chronically underreported. 
  • Or the significant increase in deaths among pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.

Don’t get me wrong; some are doing great things. 

But this is an “all hands on deck” crisis. 

Ninety-five percent of all transportation fatalities take place on our roads. It’s our deadliest mode by far.

We should be outraged. I am. 

Are you? 

We must redirect that outrage to drive lasting change and demand action.

Every so often, I hear from someone who doesn’t like when I call out inaction. And I do; just look at my Twitter feed! 

I will never apologize for that. 

Because that’s my duty. 

Because, in order to bring about real change, leaders — you and me — have to be fearless. That’s our calling.

On scene and throughout investigations, sometimes years after a tragedy, I talk with families and friends who’ve lost loved ones. The only thing the NTSB can offer them is this: we’ll determine how this happened and issue safety recommendations to prevent it from happening again. And then we will — I will — fight like hell to push our federal and state partners and others to implement those recommendations.

Because it’s not the investigation itself that brings about real safety change; it’s what we learn and what we do with that knowledge afterwards. 

I would expect no less if I lost a loved one. You shouldn’t, either!

So, I’m here today to ask for your help. 

Remember that old saying, “think globally, act locally?” 

Well, forget it!

Some very wise activists have offered an update — one that better reflects the scope of today’s issues and our interconnectedness: “act global, act local.” 

That’s what I’m asking of you today. 

I’m here to recruit you to a new front in the war on traffic deaths: a safety revolution. One where you help the NTSB push for change and hold our federal and state leaders and others — including me and the NTSB — accountable for action and inaction. 

It’s something NACTO excels at.

As the infrastructure law was being drafted, you successfully advocated for more control over how your streets are designed. Now, cities are free to use NACTO’s guidance when designing federally funded projects on city streets. 

That’s a big deal —and a great example of acting globally and locally. 

Most NTSB investigations provide similar examples of how we can…how we must…work on local issues together with global ones. 

It’s 8 p.m. on New Year's Day, 2021, in the City of Avenal, California. 

A driver, impaired by alcohol (about two-and-a-half times the legal limit), is speeding. He’s going between 88 and 98 miles per hour (mph) when he begins to drift into the shoulder. 

Trying to recover, he oversteers, loses control, and drives into oncoming traffic.

That’s where he collides head-on with a pick-up truck that was carrying one adult driver and seven children, who were between six and 15 years old. 

Everyone, in both vehicles, died. 

It was an unbelievable tragedy: nine people lost their lives on the first day of the year, most of them children. 

That local community…the City of Avenal…will never be the same. 

Just last week, we learned that eight people were killed after a driver ran a red light at a high rate of speed, lost control, and plowed into 18 pedestrians waiting at a bus stop across from a non-profit shelter helping to house migrants in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. The driver has a history of driving while intoxicated. 

What makes these crashes even more painful is that they were preventable. 

All crashes are preventable. And we know the solutions.

We have the technology to eliminate impaired driving and speeding. The NTSB has been calling for both for well over a decade. 

In fact, we’ve recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) do two things: 

  • First: require all new vehicles to be equipped with alcohol-impairment detection systems, driver monitoring systems, or both to prevent impaired driving, which research shows will save nearly 10,000 lives! 
  • Second: incentivize car manufacturers to adopt speed limiters and other lifesaving technologies like pedestrian automatic emergency braking (AEB) through the New Car Assessment Program — the 5-Star Safety Ratings program — which hasn’t been updated since 1990. 

These two recommendations reflect the core of the Safe System Approach, which is the knowledge that drivers will make poor decisions. 

That’s not to excuse the Avenal driver’s behavior. 

What I am saying is that we need redundancy. 

We can’t rely on drivers to do the right thing 100% of the time.

The Avenal crash should serve as a wake-up call to do everything in our power to keep road users safe…which brings me back to the need for global action. 

The infrastructure law requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to act on impaired driving technology within three years and to strengthen the 5-Star Safety Ratings program. 

In fact, NHTSA’s Federal Register notice asks commenters about speed limiters. It’s worth mentioning that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has already begun a rulemaking for speed limiters on large trucks. Thank you!

But we need everyone here to weigh in. 

We need everyone here beating the drum to make sure lifesaving technologies become a reality…to make sure action is taken at the highest levels. 

Because people dying. And they’re dying on your roads, in your communities.

They are your friends, your neighbors, your loved ones. 

Now I guarantee someone here is thinking, a-ha! Automated vehicles (AVs) are the solution. 

Here’s my response.

Number one: more vehicles will not decrease death on our roads. 

Number two: when I hear CEOs claim that 94% of all crashes are due to human error and that AVs will eliminate that human error, know that neither of those statements is true.

Ninety-four percent of all crashes are not, in fact, due to human error. All AVs do is move the human error somewhere else: vehicle manufacture, design, software development.

Meanwhile, AVs are being tested on your city streets.

The fact is, lifesaving, in-vehicle technologies have been available for decades: AEB, blind spot awareness, lane keeping assist — all of which should be standard in all new vehicles today, not just on high-end, high-price trim lines. 

Safety isn’t a luxury. But manufacturers need to be held accountable for that. 

One manufacturer has a popular muscle car with the highest horsepower of any production car. The Supercharged 6.2 liter high-output HEMI V8 engine is available with 807 horsepower and a top speed of 203 mph on the Challenger SRT Super Stock and SRT Jailbreak. 

Dodge markets them as “street-legal, track-ready.” 

We shouldn’t allow “street-legal” cars to go that fast, to have that much power.

Your streets are not racetracks. 

That same company also hosts an event it proudly calls “Speed Week.” 

It’s January 29, 2022, and we’re in North Las Vegas.

A driver in that same “street-legal, track-ready” vehicle approaches an intersection at 103 mph — nearly three times the posted speed limit.

The driver runs a red light to cross the intersection and causes a devastating multivehicle collision; six vehicles and 15 people were involved in this crash. 

One of the occupants was seriously injured. Nine of them died.

Among the fatalities were seven family members who were traveling together in a minivan: three young adults and four children…the youngest was just five years old.

The crash is still under investigation. But tragedies like this remind us why we need speed-limiting technology in all vehicles…why the federal government needs to take action to mandate it…and why I need your help to demand that action be taken now.

Anyone here from New York City? 

You recently launched a pilot project to test speed limiters on the city’s vehicle fleet. Thank you!

The results are in.

After driving 133,000 miles, the vehicles with speed limiters adhered to the speed limit 99% of the time and reduced hard-braking events by over a third. Hard braking is often a sign of unsafe driving.

Imagine how powerful it would be for more cities like yours to follow suit. 

You can, and I’ll support you every step of the way. 

Now let’s talk about speed limits. 

We need to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach where a state gets to decide speed limits. Cities should…you should…be empowered to set speed limits, no matter who owns the road or operates it. 

Why? Because you know your community best. 

Which is why I also strongly support nixing the “85th percentile.” The approach is flawed and outdated. It’s based on the speed of vehicles — not safety. It leads to ever-increasing speed limits across the U.S.

This is a topic I know we all agree on, and one where I want to give NACTO huge credit; you’ve led the call for big change to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. I know that’s coming out today and I’ll have to look at it.

I want to mention two other issues before I close: speed safety cameras — automated enforcement — and vehicle size and weight. 

Let’s start with automated enforcement. 

The NTSB has recommended that state and local agencies be allowed to implement their own speed safety camera programs since 2017, including in school and work zones. 

The fact is, speed safety camera programs — when implemented thoughtfully — reduce speeding and save lives. 

New York City deployed safety cameras in 750 school zones on all weekdays between 6 AM and 10 PM and found that, as of December 2021, speeding at fixed-camera locations dropped 73%. 

Similar programs in Maryland, Washington, Oregon, and in other countries have also shown significant reductions in speeds and speeding-related crashes.

We need city officials to lead on this global issue, guided by your local reality: speeding drivers. 

Finally, let’s talk about vehicle size and weight. 

Vehicles need to go on a diet! 

Pick-up trucks have gotten bigger and heavier by about a third since 1990. 

The top three best-selling vehicles in America last year? All pick-up trucks. At number-one is the Ford F series, including the Ford-150 Lightning, an electric vehicle (EV).

EVs tend to weigh more than their non-electric versions because of their batteries. It’s true for the Mustang Mach-E, the Volvo XC40 EV, the Toyota RAV4 EV. They’re all significantly heavier.

Think of it this way: the battery pack of the GMC Hummer EV weighs about as much as a gas-powered Honda Civic. Its gross vehicle weight rating is north of 10,000 pounds. 

We all know that vehicle mass matters to the survivability of people involved in crashes. 

How many of you use this great data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety?: The average risk of death for a pedestrian reaches 10% at an impact speed of 23 mph, 25% at 32 mph, 50% at 42 mph, 75% at 50 mph, and 90% at 58 mph?

Guess what? That data is based on the mean vehicle curb weight of 3,150 pounds — 2,777 pounds for cars and 3,893 pounds for pickups, vans, and SUVs. The curb weight of the single lightest vehicle in their analysis was 1,606 pounds; the heaviest was 6,996 pounds. 

We’re now talking about 8-, 9-, 10,000-pound vehicles. 

That doesn’t just have an impact on safety; it also impacts your infrastructure.

 Don’t get me wrong, we are in a climate emergency that requires immediate action. In fact, the U.S. transportation sector accounts for the largest portion of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. I wholeheartedly support efforts to phase out carbon emissions. 

And yet, we often forget the best strategy we have — one that will make us safer and greener.

I’m talking about mode shift. Buses. Subways. Light rail. Commuter rail. 

Getting people out of cars, regardless of their fuel source, and onto public transportation: that is the kind of win-win thinking we need. 

Yes, we have a climate crisis threatening our planet. We also have a global public health crisis on roads. More and bigger cars won’t fix that.

That’s why we must address both problems, hand in hand. It’s an “and,” not an “or.” 

I need you to speak up on this issue and so many others. 

Let me repeat that: I need you. 

The NTSB needs you.

The 43,000 people who die on our roads annually need you. 

They need you to be their voice because we speak for those who no longer have a voice.

Individually, your voice may be small. But, collectively? 

It’s undeniable. 

If we’re going to get to zero, not in some places for some people, but everywhere for everyone — regardless of their genetic code, their zip code, or their transportation mode — we need bold action. 

​​We need it now. And we can’t get it without your help. Thank you.