April 09, 2019

Chairs DeFazio, Norton Statements from Hearing on “Every Life Counts: Improving the Safety of our Nation’s Roadways”

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) during today’s hearing titled: “Every Life Counts: Improving the Safety of our Nation’s Roadways.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Norton and Ranking Member Davis, for holding this hearing. I am pleased that the Subcommittee is prioritizing roadway safety – a topic that has not received the level of attention it deserves.

We can and must do more to save lives and prevent injuries on our roads. Currently, more than 100 people a day die in motor vehicle accidents – that’s one life lost every fifteen minutes. Pedestrian deaths have also risen sharply in the last decade – an increase of 45 percent since 2009 – and now account for 16 percent of all roadway fatalities. Somehow this has become tolerable.

A total of 37,133 people were killed on our roadways in 2017. Let me put this in context – this is the equivalent of about 218 fully loaded airplanes falling out of the sky each year and yet somehow this has not spurred Americans to demand that enough is enough. If that weren’t bad enough, when you consider that the top causes of motor vehicle deaths are drunk driving, speeding, and distractions, you realize these deaths are entirely preventable.

At a time when transportation is changing rapidly thanks to innovation, data sharing, and automation, it’s shocking we still aren’t making big strides in safety. We should be holding ourselves to a higher standard, because when it comes to roadway safety every single life counts. While we invest billions of dollars in research for cancer and other diseases and allocate new resources to combatting the opioid crisis, we have failed to seriously invest in lowering deaths on our Nation’s roadways.

So what can we do? Making substantial progress towards saving lives requires a clear sense of – and strong commitment to – the goal of safety as the highest priority. Two decades ago, Sweden launched an effort called Vision Zero which set forth a road safety approach with a simple aim: “No loss of life is acceptable.” This model has been replicated in several countries around the world, and it guides the mission of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Road to Zero Coalition. And, many U.S. cities have independently adopted policies to work towards zero deaths in roadway accidents. Congress needs to demonstrate its commitment to making Vision Zero a reality as well.

Unfortunately, highway safety has not been a high priority in transportation talks in Congress in recent years. In the development of both the FAST Act and MAP-21, there was a stark shift in the discourse over safety in Congress. Instead of developing solutions to promote safety, we sparred over proposals to ease state requirements on safety funding and exempt industry after industry from safety regulations. 

As Congress develops a bill to build 21st Century infrastructure, ensuring safety of the users of that infrastructure must be a top priority of this Committee.  Given that two-thirds of fatalities are tied to drunk driving and excessive speed, I want to double down on federal actions that we know work – education and enforcement. 

And we need to look at safety from all angles – not just promoting more responsible behavior by road users, but by ensuring that roadway design takes into account all users through smart policies, such as complete streets. Addressing the unique elements of each community, such as pedestrian accessibility, street crossings, and bus and bike lanes, rather than a cookie-cutter approach can have a profound impact on reducing traffic accidents and fatalities.

I look forward to today’s discussion and learning what Congress can do to raise the bar on safety.

Chair DeFazio’s remarks as delivered can be found here.

Chair Norton’s remarks as delivered can be found here.