Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at the Lifesavers National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg
Lifesavers National Conference
April 27, 2021
Thank you to all the champions of public health and safety in the audience today for joining this 39th annual Lifesavers Conference. I’m sorry that I couldn’t be with you in person, but I’m so thankful for the work that you do every day to keep our streets and communities safe.
In a moment, we’ll be honoring the winners of NHTSA’s Public Service Awards: Champions of safety who have worked tirelessly to stop impaired driving, reach out to underserved tribal communities, improve training programs, and protect American lives.
I’m so grateful to these award recipients—and to each of you—for your dedication to our shared mission.
As a former mayor, I know firsthand how much your work matters. Because it’s the members of our communities—our advocates, first responders, public health professionals, transportation planners, local officials, and more—who understand those communities best.
You see firsthand the challenges in your neighborhoods: the bike lanes that are too narrow, the pedestrian crossings that are too dangerous, the spots that allow vehicles to go too fast.
And you understand all too well the behavioral obstacles to traffic safety: including the drivers who are impaired by drugs or alcohol, who speed, who drive distracted, or who don’t wear their seat belts.
We all know the numbers: More than 35,000 Americans die in traffic fatalities every year. Human behavior contributes to 94 percent of serious crashes. And people of color and low income communities are the hardest hit: The fatality rate for Black pedestrians is twice that of white pedestrians. For Native Americans, it’s five times higher.
That is unacceptable.
As the Secretary of Transportation, I’m committed to safe roads for everyone. And across the Department, safety is our top priority. That’s not a cliché; it’s our driving mission. And it’s what motivates me every single day.
That’s why NHTSA (nit-suh) is working with state and local agencies, law enforcement, safety stakeholders, and others to address impaired and distracted driving, speeding, and seat belt usage. And because equity is an essential part of safety, we’re also paying special attention to our work with law enforcement agencies and the awareness campaigns surrounding those efforts. We’re asking participating law enforcement agencies to take a hard look at equity. Because it’s not enough to protect the public; we have to do it in a fair, equitable way.
We’re also looking at the role that new technologies can play in reducing injuries and fatalities. Because we know that newer, more energy-efficient vehicles are also equipped with better safety features—which helps us meet our safety goals and our climate goals at the same time.
Of course, vehicle safety is just one part of how we build a safer, cleaner, more equitable future.
It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach: from biking, to walking, to public transit. Every day, millions of Americans rely on each of these options to get to work, visit family, and keep our economy running. And with your help, we’re going to build a future that works for all of them. One that’s safer, cleaner, and more equitable.
The Biden-Harris Administration has shown us a clear path to that future: the American Jobs Plan.
The President’s plan provides over $600 billion to improve our transportation infrastructure and make it safer and more resilient. That includes modernizing 20,000 miles of roads and highways, fixing the 10 most economically significant bridges in the country in need of reconstruction, and repairing another 10,000 smaller bridges, including the ones that connect to rural and tribal communities.
It includes $85 billion to expand and modernize our transit systems, and doubles federal funding for public transit. Because the people who rely on it the most—especially people of color—deserve to get where they need to go quickly and safely.
The American Jobs Plan invests over $170 billion in electric vehicles, so more Americans can get good-paying jobs building better, safer, modern cars. To support those vehicles, it also provides funding for a national network of half a million new charging stations by the end of the decade.
And of course, it invests $20 billion directly into improving road safety, including a new Safe Streets for All program that would fund local and state efforts to reduce crashes and fatalities, so that whether you drive, walk, or bike, you should be safe getting where you need to go.
The American Jobs Plan is the most ambitious investment in jobs since World War II, and it gives us an opportunity to improve public safety for generations to come.
We’re not just going to repave roads and keep the status quo. We’re going to build back better, smarter, and safer than before.
This is our chance to redefine what we want from the roads we travel every day. To ensure that they are healthy enough to support everyone safely, everywhere.
Our roads and streets aren’t just how we get around; they’re how we connect people: To their jobs, their loved ones, and to each other.
So let me again congratulate today’s award recipients for their service to our nation.
And I look forward to working with all of you to build a safer, cleaner, more equitable future for this country together.