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Press Event: Public Transportation Use as a Traffic Safety Tool to Reduce Deaths and Injuries on the Nation’s Roadways, Washington, DC
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
Washington, DC

Good morning.  My name is Bella Dinh-Zarr.  I am here today as the Vice Chairman of the NTSB, as a public health scientist, and as someone who walks, bikes, and takes public transportation every day.  As many of you know, the NTSB is a unique federal agency because we are independent of all other government agencies.  We have one single mission: to advance transportation safety.  We are charged by Congress to investigate every civil aviation accident but we also investigate significant highway, marine, rail, pipeline, and hazardous materials accidents.  And of all the modes of transportation, year in and year out, the greatest number of deaths occur on our roads.

It may seem unexpected to have a person trained in public health at the NTSB, just as it may seem unexpected to think about transit as a traffic safety tool, but it makes perfect sense when we remember that motor vehicle crashes have been and continue to be one of the leading causes of death and injury for people of all ages and it is the leading cause of death for young people.  We need all the tools we can get.

With the recent release of the FARS national data, I would like to start by looking at the statistics.  We now face the highest annual percentage increase in highway deaths in nearly 50 years.  This is a relatively recent development. In past decades, deaths on our roads have tended to decrease, from 51,000 in 1980 to 44,000 in 1990 to a low of 32,000 in 2011.

Safer roads, safer cars, and safer behavior have all played a part in this reduction. Unfortunately, this past year we saw a 7% increase in deaths from the previous year.  There are many reasons for this increase but many of these reasons are issues we have grappled with for many years.  That is why we need to be innovative with our solutions. Public transportation is a tool for reducing deaths and injuries because it provides transportation options for high risk groups.

At the NTSB, we release our Most Wanted List of transportation priorities every year and every year, invariably, many are related to high risk groups such as distracted, impaired, and fatigued drivers.  That is why it is important to remember that public transportation can help keep high risk drivers out of the driver’s seat.  For example, when we think of the 3,400 distraction-related deaths last year, we should remember that distracted driving can be prevented if we choose to travel by bus or train when we need to multi-task.  When we think of the 10,000 people, who died in alcohol-related crashes, we should remember that we can separate drinking from driving and that transit can help make interventions, such as .05 BAC (blood alcohol content) laws and alcohol interlocks, even more practical by providing transportation options.  With public transportation and ride sharing options, there is no excuse to drive after drinking.

In addition to impaired and distracted drivers, older drivers and young or novice drivers also are at a greater risk of being killed or injured in a crash.  Public transportation, where available, can be a safe alternative for any age group.

It is logical to have options.  As Americans, we value this freedom of transportation – the freedom to get around in many different ways.  Our job at the NTSB is to help you get around safely, no matter what type of transportation you choose.

Personally, I take public transportation almost every day and so does my husband, who is a pediatrician.  We also have used buses and trains to get our son to daycare or school or activities since he was a baby.  We take public transportation because it is safe and we take public transportation because it is enjoyable.

Today’s event is a good reminder for those of us in the transportation safety, public health, and transit communities to work together to implement innovative solutions to accomplish our common goal of saving lives and preventing injuries.

In addition, at the NTSB, we are here to do everything we can to make all forms of transportation as safe as possible.  Public transportation is a safe mode of transportation and it is an important tool for traffic safety because it provides a way for people, especially high risk groups, to get around safely.

With more safe transportation options, our roads can become safer for everyone.  Thank you.