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A turning point for America’s deadly roads?

Oct 28, 2021

Corinne Kisner, Executive Director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), today issued the following statement in response to USDOT data showing a dramatic jump in American traffic fatalities and Transportation Secretary Buttigieg’s pledge to implement a Safe Systems Approach to traffic safety:

America’s cities applaud Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for plainly calling the continued increase in traffic deaths on American roads–with over 20,000 people dead in the first half of this year–a preventable crisis and promising a sweeping new approach to make U.S. streets less deadly.

Secretary Buttigieg has pledged that USDOT will take a Safe Systems Approach to traffic safety, in sharp contrast to many federal guidelines and programs, which often place other priorities–like the unfettered flow of vehicles–above or on par with saving lives. This new approach is both welcome and overdue, as the U.S. has for decades slid backwards on road safety, with pedestrians dying on American streets twice as often as most other industrialized countries, and Black, Native, and brown people dying at unconscionably higher rates than White people on our streets.

Secretary Buttigieg and his team have their work cut out for them. In order to truly tackle the increasing carnage on American roads, they must carry out a sweeping overhaul of how the U.S. designs streets and which projects get federal funding, compel states to work with cities on tackling the country’s most dangerous roads, and address the increasing risk that ever-larger SUVs and trucks bring to streets with people walking, biking, and rolling.

All agencies have a role to play. FHWA can act now to adopt significant and overdue reforms to the obscure manual that dictates the safety of nearly every American street–the MUTCD, bringing national standards in line with FHWA’s own guidance and research. NHTSA can implement long-delayed regulations already approved by Congress on automated emergency braking and speed regulators, update NCAP standards to ensure that consumers have full and accurate safety information about the vehicles they buy, and focus attention on the development of vehicle design standards, such as those already in use in Europe that ensure minimum visibility from the driver’s seat.

The infrastructure bill, when it passes, will continue to distribute funds to states with few strings attached–money that states have traditionally used to widen and expand roadways without city input, often making the most dangerous streets within a city even less safe. USDOT must hold states to account by closely tracking these funds, scrutinizing projects that will result in expanded lane miles or higher vehicle speeds, and awarding grants to projects that can demonstrably improve safety for all road users.

The infrastructure bill will also fund large programs that USDOT has nearly full control over, and Secretary Buttigieg’s agencies must apply a Safe Systems lens over every aspect of program design, and project selection. Paired with the inspired transportation programs in the Build Back Better Act, there is hope that federal transportation programs will finally turn the corner from funding ever-wider, more deadly roads, to a holistically-planned transportation system that connects communities, corrects inequities, and saves lives.

NACTO and our cities look forward to working with the Secretary to shape USDOT’s forthcoming National Roadway Safety Strategy, and ensure that the proven methods for making our streets safer get the focus we need to stem this increasingly deadly crisis.

About the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
NACTO is an association of 92 major North American cities and transit agencies formed to exchange transportation ideas, insights, and practices and cooperatively approach national transportation issues. The organization’s mission is to build cities as places for people, with safe, sustainable, accessible, and equitable transportation choices that support a strong economy and vibrant quality of life. To learn more, visit or follow us on Twitter at @NACTO.

Alex Engel | [email protected]

For Immediate Release
October 28, 2021