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A Holistic Approach to Highway Safety? New NTSB Chief Says Yes

On Behalf of | Sep 23, 2021 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

The new head of the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says that to reduce road fatalities, the entire system must change.

“The current approach, which favors automobiles and punishes only drivers for crashes, is clearly not working,” NTSB chief, Jennifer Homendy, said in a recent speech at the Governor’s Highway Safety Association conference in Denver. “If we are going to get to zero, we will have to do something different.”

In the U.S., there are more than 38,000 road accident-related deaths this year, which is the greatest number since 2007. More than 8,700 motor vehicle deaths were reported in the first three months of 2021. That’s up 10.5% from 2020, despite the fact that vehicle miles traveled have declined due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions.

She said governments and businesses must focus on the whole system rather than individual driver behavior. The “whole system approach” worked perfectly in aviation, where there were zero fatalities in 2020, she added.

Homendy’s background includes extensive stints investigating air traffic incidents. One of the investigators of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash, she suggested a “Safe System Approach” to road safety. Using speeding as an example, she asked whether road designs encourage higher speeds and therefore, increased speed limits in states.

She also suggested that state lawmakers should allow local authorities to set lower speed limits and that manufacturers should reconsider designing vehicles that go over 100 mph. Speeding crashes rose 11 percent last year, she stated.

Speed limits and laws against impaired driving still have to be enforced, she said. But enforcement on its own won’t make roads safer.