It’s hard to believe it’s been 18 years since terrorists attacked our country on September 11, 2001. As we honor the heroes of that day, and commemorate those who perished, I want to pay special tribute to our DOT colleagues who played such a critical role in safeguarding our national airspace, roads, bridges, tunnels and other forms of transportation on that day. Their magnificent efforts continue to inspire gratitude and pride. This year I once again have the honor of attending the special 9/11 ceremony at the Pentagon at which the President and the First Lady also participated.
There are many competitions taking place this August, including the Pan American Games in Peru, and the extreme sports X Games, being held in Minneapolis. August also sees the start of the US Open tennis championship.
Move Over. It’s the Law.
If your car has ever broken down or had a flat tire, leaving you stranded on the side of a road, you know how dangerous and unnerving it can be. Cars and trucks speeding by just inches away leaves too little margin for error and could so easily result in a disastrous crash. America’s first responders – police, fire, EMT’s – face this peril every day in the line of duty.
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.