I’m on the plane on my way home from the annual Lifesavers Conference: 2,500 of my closest, newest, friends. It’s a national meeting: the largest gathering of highway safety professionals in the US. Attendees comprise law enforcement, EMS, planners, engineers, and advocates. Never heard of it? Neither had I until a friend said he wanted me to speak at it several months ago.
The goal of the organization is to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries nationwide. So, as you may imagine, Vision Zero was mentioned often by leadership and workshop speakers. In case you don’t know, Vision Zero in 25 words or less is the idea that any number of traffic deaths other than zero is unacceptable. Last year, there were 35,092. A tough goal to reach, no doubt, but many at the conference are aware that something’s got to change.
I spent most of my time following the “Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety” track. You’re not surprised, I’m sure. The Ped/Bike track comprised talks on bicycling and motorist enforcement, community engagement, engineering, pedestrian enforcement, safety campaign ideas, and technology. Detective (Ret.) Arnold Anderson (Essex County Public Safety Academy) invited Cyndi Steiner (New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition) and me to join him in conducting a workshop on the law enforcement program I created and implemented, and our efforts to improve conditions for road users in New Jersey.
Attendees in our workshop came from all over the country, and from multiple disciplines. The majority were law enforcement officers, and there was considerable interest in the subject. The audience had many thoughtful questions, and was genuinely interested and concerned about how to balance protection and enforcement. It turns out that the consensus of the group was much the same as our premise: enforcement of motor vehicle law, for both motorists and bicyclists, does not need to be about writing citations. It needs to be about educating people about expectations. It needs to be about opening people’s eyes to the fact that VEHICLES don’t use the road; PEOPLE do. Roads are not built for cars (or for bikes), but for PEOPLE to travel from one place to another.
Throughout the sessions, there was an awareness that we need to stop thinking about roads solely as a means for carrying vehicles at ever-increasing speeds to ever-more-distant places. In one engineering session the presenters admitted that their views are rather heretical among their peers…they espoused the idea that in too many cases to mention, it was ROAD DESIGN FAULT that causes so many of the deaths we see on our roads.
A common theme emerged, almost as if all of us speakers had planned it, but we didn’t – we need political will and community engagement to stop the killing on our nation’s roads. We need to do a better job at engineering. We need to educate drivers. We need to enforce the law. And unless we talk to each other, and do ALL THREE, it won’t get better.
If this conference was any indication, it’s going to get better.