The new chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is angling for a new view on highway safety by urging officials to take the blame off of drivers. 

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jannifer Homendy says that governments and businesses should consider an approach similar to that used by aviation – meaning that officials should begin to consider the whole system as the reason for highway crashes rather than placing the blame on highway travelers alone. 

This shift in ideology comes on the heels of a particularly deadly few months on America’s roads – the deadliest since 2007. Despite a decrease in miles traveled, more than 8,700 motor vehicle deaths were reported in the first three months of 2021. This number is up 10.5% from this time last year, and speed-related crashes went up 11% in the last year, reported the Star Tribune.

“The current approach, which favors automobiles and punishes only drivers for crashes, is clearly not working,” Homendy said during a speech at the Governors Highway Safety Association conference in Denver on Monday, September 13th. “If we are going to get to zero, we will have to do something different.” 

Enter the “Safe System Approach.” Homendy says that, instead of focusing on the failures of those using the highway, governments and businesses should begin to consider that maybe the highway system itself has failed. Homendy points out that perhaps road designs encourage the high speeds that can lead to deadly crashes, and cites “ill-conceived” federal guidance that has led to increasing speed limits in states throughout the country, as well as “manufacturers who design vehicles that can exceed 100 miles per hour or that have no speed limiters.”

While Homendy acknowledges that the enforcement of speed limits and laws against impaired driving are crucial to keeping the roadways safe, she also believes that enforcement alone is not enough, and that road designers, civil engineers, public health officials, governors, vehicle manufacturers, transportation providers, and even communities need to work together to come up with a new approach to the highway system. 

 “The carnage on our roads has to stop. You know it, and I know it,” she said.

Although Homendy and the NTSB investigate road crashes and other roadway-related-incidents, it has no regulatory authority.

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