Speeches and Presentations

Remarks: MTA Forum on Bus Operator Visibility

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 | New York City

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
New York City
As Prepared for Delivery

Chairman Prendergast, David Mayer, thank you for the invitation. It is exciting for me to be here today with a group of people who not only share a vision for zero traffic fatalities, but who are on the front lines working to make that vision a reality.

The work that you do is vital, and let me share why:

32,675. That’s how many people we lost on our roadways in 2014.

Every one of those 32,675 losses is a friend, a family member.

Even though we have made enormous progress over the last 50 years since the U.S. Department of Transportation was created, we know those gains are fragile. In fact, we know the number lost in 2015 is even higher.

So where should we be?

I believe the only acceptable goal is zero.

And as New York City has done, we need to start with that goal, not hope to end up there. We can’t just hope that the cumulative effect of our good ideas will get us to zero.

We know some of what we are doing has had great success. NHTSA “Countermeasures that Work” provide an actionable roadmap for communities to save lives on their roadways.

We know that innovations in technology are helping us get there. From 1960-2012, technological advances like seatbelts and air bags have helped us save 613,501 lives.

So we know that many of these initiatives are working, and we need to keep doing them.

But we also know that won’t get us to zero. Everyone here probably knows the saying of what happens if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

I’ve challenged our statisticians to tell me how long it would take, if we just kept doing what we were doing, when would we get to zero?

They won’t tell me. At our current rate, it would take decades and decades, costing hundreds of thousands of lives.

So we know the answer is not just doubling down on what we’ve already done.

We need to think — and act — differently.

At NHTSA, we’re taking a new approach.

You can think of the old approach as react, mitigate, punish.

Our new approach has three elements:

First, we’re trying to prevent the crash altogether. Here we are focused on things like automatic emergency braking, which we announced this year will be standard on more than 99 percent of new vehicles by 2022.

Second, we’re focused on helping drivers make the right choice. We know that a driver choice or error can be tied to the cause of 94 percent of crashes. If we’re going to get to zero, we need to put a huge amount of energy and focus onto that 94 percent. Earlier this year we held a series of behavioral safety summits across the country to look for new solutions to problems like drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving. This fall, we will convene a final summit to lay out a roadmap to deal with these challenges in a new comprehensive way, starting with zero and building our strategy to get us there.

Third, and finally, we are embracing the potential of automated vehicle technologies that could have massive life-saving potential. During the first half of this year, our team is working hard at building new policies that will speed the development and deployment of automated technologies that could help us get to zero. Too often we talk about a tension, or striking a balance, between safety and innovation, as if there is a trade-off between the two. The way we should be thinking about it is as promoting safety innovation.

We are excited about the progress we are making. But we are under no illusion that we will get there alone. As with so many other things, road safety takes a community.

That brings us to the important work you are doing and that will be discussed throughout the day.

New York City has done two incredible things in the last few years. First, it has committed to Vision Zero. That’s not an easy thing to do. When you do something like that, you’re opening yourself up to criticism immediately. It’s a lot easier not to act, but you and your leaders have taken the harder route.

Second, you’re actually delivering. New York City has already seen sharp declines in traffic fatalities, even as fatalities are alarmingly increasing nationwide.

That progress needs to be celebrated and built upon.

We need to be particularly concerned with unprotected road users—pedestrians and bicyclists who are far more exposed on the roadways.

Public transit is among the safest forms of transportation, but large buses on our roads pose unique challenges to the safety of these unprotected users.

That’s why the work you are doing here today — looking for innovative new solutions to these unique challenges — is so important.

And the U.S. Department of Transportation shares your goals. In 2014, the Department launched the Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative for bicyclist and pedestrian safety.

Bus operators need to be commended for the incredibly important work they do. They provide mobility to millions who might not otherwise have it, and they are focused on the safety of their passengers and the people around them.

Just getting to my hotel in Times Square from Penn Station last night was all the lesson I’ll need to know that driving in New York City can be a real challenge.

How can we make that challenge easier? One of the answers may well be improved vehicle designs, that make it easier for drivers to see the world around them.

We need to think both big and small when talking about vehicle design.

We should be looking at changes in bus manufacturing that make operator visibility a priority, and look at cross-view mirrors that give bus operators the best forward visibility.

But we should also be looking at advanced technologies, like cameras and Pedestrian Crash Avoidance Mitigation systems that have the potential for exponentially increasing pedestrian protection.

In a few minutes you’ll be hearing from Dr. Shashi Kuppa, the Chief of the Special Vehicles and Systems Division in NHTSA’s Office of Crashworthiness Standards. She will update you on our work in these areas.

As we start our discussion on these many important topics, I will leave you with this final number: 234. That’s the number of people who lost their lives in traffic fatalities last year in New York City. If we can get that number to zero, New York will not only be doing an enormous service to its own 8.5 million residents, but will serve as a guiding light for people living all across the country.

The work you do here matters a great deal. Please know that NHTSA stands with you every step of the way.

Thank you again for having us today. I am happy to take any questions.