Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, has gone on record that a frequently cited government statistic that 94% of serious crashes are due to driver error is misleading and that the Department of Transportation (DOT) should cease using it, reports The Telegraph.
In a section about the safety potential of automated vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website states “94% of serious crashes are due to human error.”
However, Homendy and safety advocates say using the 94% figure is an excuse for the spike in roadway collisions and continued use of the figure, particularly by NHTSA, distracts from a comprehensive approach that is now needed, according to the report.
In a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in December 2021, groups including Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Consumer Federation of America and Center for Auto Safety emphasized the need for a multifaceted plan to reduce crashes, including issuing long overdue safety standards mandated by Congress and more closely overseeing the deployment of autonomous vehicles on the road.
Homendy strongly agrees and implies that a cultural shift is needed so that people don't just accept the “94% human error” doctrine.
Rather, all stakeholders must accept the complexities of crashes and share responsibility for improving roadway safety by implementing the Safe System Approach which examines how all aspects of the transportation environment contribute to crashes, notes the report. A “safe system” approach urged by NTSB is aimed at minimizing the impact of human mistakes and protecting people who walk and bike as well as drive.
The Biden administration is allotting $5 billion for its new Safe Streets and Roads for All program, which provides grants to cities, metro areas and towns to improve safety, especially for cyclists and pedestrians. It also includes new federal mandates to automakers to install anti-drunk driving technology in cars.
While Homendy is “cautiously optimistic” that DOT is taking the necessary steps to boost safety, including improving data collection to determine when and why accidents are happening, she is concerned about the government's ability to keep pace in making the best use of rapidly changing safety technology, notes the report.
U.S. traffic deaths in the first six months of 2021 hit 20,160, and 18% increase over the first half of 2020 and the highest first-half total since 2006.