With more people on the road than ever before – including pedestrians and bicyclists -- it has never been more important for all road users to be sober and solely focused on safe travel. But two developments in the past decade have set back these traffic safety goals: increased drug-impaired driving and increased cell phone use while driving.
Few traditions have proved so enduring as New Year’s resolutions. There are over 167 million Internet search results on the topic of 2019 resolutions. Most seek to improve health and well-being. Of course, that is easier said than done. Still, good to keep trying!
As Secretary of Transportation, I’d like to propose some New Year’s Resolutions that are easy to accomplish and, if widely adopted, would save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of injuries in 2019. Such as:
The Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) theme for 2018 — “Show Some Love” — rings true at DOT. Since 2005, DOT employees in the D.C. metropolitan area alone have contributed over $18 million through CFC. Overall, federal employees contribute about $100 million every year through CFC.
“With the passing of President George H.W. Bush, our country has lost a heroic patriot, distinguished statesman and loving patriarch of an eminent American family, who dedicated his life to serving others. I was honored to serve as Deputy Secretary of Transportation and Director of the Peace Corps during his Presidency, becoming one of the many young people who benefited from his expansive vision to move our country forward. America celebrates the legacy and achievements of this extraordinary leader as he is laid to rest.”
On Veterans Day, November 11th, we honor the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. They put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard our freedoms and protect our country.
America’s transportation systems and infrastructure are fundamental to our nation’s security, safety and quality of life. That is why the Department’s Crisis Management Center (CMC) monitors America’s transportation systems and infrastructure 24-hours a day, every day. And that’s why I visited the CMC on my first day as Secretary of Transportation.
The CMC’s around-the-clock vigilance was instituted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The men and women staffing the CMC are key to enabling the Department to develop and execute timely, coordinated responses to support life safety missions and to assist in the restoration of transportation infrastructure.
Safety is our #1 priority here at the U.S. Department of Transportation. We work on improving safety every day and approach it from every angle – including infrastructure design and funding, vehicle design and operating standards. Across all our modes we strive to address the leading cause of transportation injuries and fatalities: human error.
This week, NHTSA released the 2017 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data. The 1.8% decrease in fatalities compared to 2016 was welcome news. But 37,133 people died in 2017 in motor vehicle traffic crashes – most of which involved human error. This is tragic and unacceptable.
On September 17, I attended NHTSA’s Drug-Impaired Driving Public Meeting near Baltimore and listened to speakers, including the U.S. Attorney General and the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, outline the terrible menace of illegal drugs. And it is not just illegal drugs making America’s roads less safe, side effects related to over-the-counter medications and legalized marijuana are also causing drivers to make fatal mistakes. In my remarks, I relayed the Governors Highway Safety Association report findings that 44% of drivers killed in crashes in 2016 tested positive for illegal, prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Drug-impairment can have lethal consequences across all modes of transportation. It breaks your heart that these fatalities and injuries are so preventable.
September 23-29 was Rail Safety Week, a public awareness campaign that NHTSA, FRA, railroads and others launched to persuade people to be more careful at railroad grade crossings. Nearly 300 people a year are dying at railroad grade crossings – often because they don’t see a train coming or misjudged its distance, speed and ability to stop. Some drivers (and bicyclists and pedestrians) race trains to crossings or go around lowered gates. Again, better decisions could have prevented many of these tragedies.
Child Passenger Safety Week was September 23-29 to address the fact that, on average, two children under age 13 were killed every day in 2016 while riding in vehicles. Many of these tragedies could have been prevented by proper use of seat belts, car seats and boosters. NHTSA and its safety partners are working to save children’s lives and to save their families from a lifetime of grief. National Teen Driver Safety Week is October 17-25. Speed was a factor in 32% of teenage driver fatalities in 2016. Nearly 20% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking. Distracted driving can also result in fatalities or life-altering injuries. Research has found that dialing a phone number while driving increases a teen's risk of crashing by six times, and texting while driving increases the risk by 23 times.
That so many transportation fatalities and injuries are preventable motivates us at USDOT to be even more creative and persistent in our efforts to promote safer behavior. We hope that more Americans will heed, and help us spread, these safety messages.
Our country begins this week with a collective outpouring of concern and prayers for our fellow Americans who have suffered the wrath, or are still in the path, of Hurricane Florence.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Crisis Management Center has been working around the clock to support the efforts of state and local officials during the hurricane. I want to recognize the first responders in harm’s way as well as our DOT employees working in challenging and often dangerous conditions to help. I have been in contact with the governors in the affected states and have offered the full resources of DOT as they work to restore their transportation systems.
Seventeen years have passed since terrorists attacked our country on September 11, 2001. The horrific events of that day will never be forgotten. And the innocent people who perished, their families and loved ones live on in our thoughts and in our hearts. As we remember them, I would also like to pay special tribute to our DOT colleagues who played such a key role in safeguarding our country on that day and in the aftermath.
While it’s all part of history, it’s good to remind those who weren’t there of the extraordinary actions taken that day. To ensure that all terrorist-controlled aircraft, the historic order was given to shut down civil aviation in our country’s national airspace. For the first time in aviation history, air traffic controllers had to clear U.S. airspace of all commercial traffic. Thanks to their rapid and heroic response, within four hours U.S. airspace was emptied of all aircraft except military and essential medical traffic. For the record, that was approximately 4,500 aircraft safely landed in record time. In addition, all inbound international flights were diverted from U.S. airspace and U.S. airports. It was an unprecedented achievement, made possible by the skill, professionalism and dedication of our air traffic controllers and their FAA colleagues.
But that was just the beginning. The U.S. Coast Guard-- which was part of DOT at the time-- helped safely evacuate more than 350,000 people from Manhattan. And other transportation systems were impacted, as well. Those of us working in Washington, D.C. at the time remember that the 14th Street bridge, as well as the Metro and automobile traffic between Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia near Reagan National Airport, had to be shut down temporarily. So in the hours, days and months following the attacks, DOT modes were called upon to help to reopen roads, tunnels, bridges, harbors and railroads throughout the country, and much more. It’s not an exaggeration to say that DOT played a pivotal role in our country’s recovery from the attacks, which were meant not only to terrorize our citizens but to paralyze our economy.
Despite the passage of time, the heroic response of our DOT colleagues continues to inspire gratitude, confidence and respect to this day. So as we remember the heroes, the fallen, and the families of September 11, 2001, I hope you will also join me in saluting our DOT colleagues whose magnificent effort played a seminal role in our country’s recovery. I will be thinking of them, and remembering and giving thanks as I participate in a ceremony marking 9/11 at the Pentagon.
National Truck Driver Appreciation Week (September 9-15) is occurring this year just as Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the East Coast. Millions of people are going to be especially grateful in the coming days for the truck drivers who will be delivering food, fuel and other critical supplies. Many of the men and women driving these trucks will be braving adverse road and weather conditions to get their loads through to communities.
When a disaster causes store shelves to empty, gas pumps to shut off and electrical grids to shut down, America’s truck drivers bring in the supplies that save lives, provide comfort and allow people to rebuild. So we should all be even more appreciative than usual this week for their hard work and professionalism. And let’s wish these men and women safe travel and help them out by operating our own vehicles in a safer manner in proximity to large trucks.
80 percent of U.S. communities rely solely on trucks for the delivery of goods. Truck drivers delivered nearly 12 billion tons of freight in the U.S. in 2016 and contribute well over $700 billion annually to our economy. Life literally would not be the same – for anyone -- without America’s truck drivers.
At the Department of Transportation we are also focused on looking to the future of the trucking workforce. We are striving to remove unnecessary obstacles or regulatory barriers that prevent qualified individuals from gaining their CDL and earning a good living. On July 5, we announced a pilot programto permit 18-20 year olds who possess the U.S. military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate large trucks in interstate commerce. This program will allow veterans and reservists to translate their extensive training into good-paying jobs operating commercial vehicles safely across the country, while also addressing the nationwide driver shortage.
The Department of Transportation appreciates America’s truck drivers who are working hard and in a safe manner to perform the demanding and important work of hauling freight. Their efforts are critical to the U.S. economy and the quality of life of all our citizens.