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Speeches

Opening Statement: NTSB Pedestrian Safety Forum
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
Washington, DC
5/10/2016

​Good morning and welcome to the National Transportation Safety Board Pedestrian Safety Forum.  I am Bella Dinh-Zarr, Vice Chairman of the NTSB and Chairman of this Forum.  Joining me on the dais are Dr. Deborah Bruce, our Forum coordinator, and Dr. Ivan Cheung, our first panel coordinator.  I would like to recognize Dr. Earl Weener, my fellow Board Member, and Dr. Robert Molloy, Director, Office of Highway Safety.  Welcome to all of you who are attending today in person as well the many attendees who are viewing via webcast.  We are here today to find out, and share with each other, as much as we can about an issue that affects every one of us – pedestrian safety.  No matter who we are, we all walk, or if we are in in a wheelchair, roll, in order to get around.  This Pedestrian Safety forum will help us learn more about the issue and the ways in which individuals, communities, industry, government, and others can take action to protect all of us as pedestrians.  We recognize there are other vulnerable road users – bicyclists – and some of the interventions we discuss today will address both groups.  But today’s forum will focus on pedestrians.
 
Although much of the focus today will be on U.S. examples, many lessons are broadly applicable so we never forget our colleagues around the world and the importance of sharing knowledge across borders.  Greetings to our international colleagues who are viewing on webcast and some of whom have traveled across the globe to be here with us today.
 
For those of you who are not familiar with the NTSB:  We are an independent federal agency of the U.S. Government and we are charged by Congress with objectively and precisely investigating transportation accidents and conducting studies in order to advance transportation safety.  We investigate every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant accidents in other modes - railroad, highway, marine, and pipeline.  We issue safety recommendations with the goal of preventing future accidents.
 
The NTSB is not a regulatory body, but we can and do make recommendations to any organization that is in a position to improve transportation safety, such as other Federal agencies, state and local governments, industry, and associations.  We are fortunate that the majority of our recommendations – over our 90 year history – are adopted, in large part because of our reputation for objectivity, transparency, and independence.
 
I am often asked about emerging issues in transportation, such as drones or self-driving cars. These are important topics which we monitor with a sharp eye; however, we must not neglect the ever-present issues, like pedestrian safety, that take their daily toll, but often go unnoticed.  With 70% of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas by 2030, and with early estimates showing an increase in pedestrian deaths last year, there is no better time than now to address this important and urgent issue.
 
In 2014, according to Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), more than 4800 pedestrians died on public roads and approximately 65,000 people were injured in the United States.  That is one death and 14 injuries every 2 hours.  These numbers do not include people who died or were injured on driveways, private roads, parking lots, and worksites.  Although our focus is on traffic-related pedestrian deaths, I should mention that these non-traffic deaths are also preventable and are recorded in NHTSA’s Not In Traffic System.
 
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, from 2009 to 2014, the number of pedestrians who died in crashes increased by 15%.  This number of deaths has continued to rise, even during years when overall motor vehicle deaths have held steady or declined.  Pedestrians are increasingly at risk for death and injury and constitute one in every seven motor vehicle crash deaths. 
 
As some of you may know, I was trained first in public health.  I view transportation safety from the perspective of injury prevention – preventing fatal injuries (deaths) and preventing non-fatal injuries that, although more difficult to track, have lasting effects on our health, quality of life, and productivity.  Public health professionals, including the U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control, encourage walking as an accessible form of physical activity which can help prevent and treat chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental illness, and obesity.  Public health experts have also found that some people do not walk due to concerns about traffic safety.  So from a public health perspective, as we encourage the healthy activity of walking, we also must work to prevent the injuries and deaths that can occur as more people of all ages embrace this form of transportation.
 
Today’s forum will be organized around four panels, each addressing different aspects of pedestrian safety.  The first panel will look at recent trends and underlying effects of safety risks for walking across or along public roads, including efforts to quantify exposure of pedestrians to the risk of being struck by a moving vehicle and the data needed to develop effective pedestrian safety plans.  The second panel will look at federal, state, and local urban planning and policy as it relates to pedestrian safety.  The third panel will consider highway design countermeasures to improve pedestrian safety, including infrastructure cost and funding. The fourth panel will consider vehicle-based solutions to improve pedestrian safety, including collision avoidance and vehicle detection technology being deployed in current and future model vehicles.
 
Our panelists today possess deep expertise across all of these issue areas and I would like to thank them for taking the time to share their knowledge and present their findings.  I very much look forward to hearing from them.  We also will have opportunities for the audience – both those in person and those watching the webcast – to submit questions.
 
By the end of this forum, we want to better understand why pedestrian fatalities are on the rise and learn effective interventions for reversing this trend.  Also, importantly, this forum brings together experts both on the panels and in the audience who have different perspectives but who share a common goal of improving pedestrian safety.  This is a community full of knowledge and dedication and we can do even more if we work together, so I hope you will take this as an opportunity to learn more about each other and stay in touch.
 
On behalf of the NTSB, thank you all for being here today and I look forward to working with you to advance pedestrian safety.
 
Now, I would like to turn the microphone over to Dr. Deborah Bruce, our Forum Coordinator.  Dr. Bruce.