In her keynote address at the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) 103rd annual meeting in Washington D.C., National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair, Jennifer Homendy called on the transportation industry to put safety first.
Most notably, Homendy has used her platform to advocate for the implementation of NTSB safety recommendations which include strategies to stop the rise of traffic deaths and protect the most vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and people with disabilities.
During the address, Homendy said that zero highway fatalities is an attainable goal and encouraged transportation leaders to take on the challenge.
“Be fearless. Fearlessly pursue zero as your only goal in every mode of transportation. Zero at sea and on our waterways,” said Homendy. “Zero on passenger rail and freight rail. Zero on our transit systems. Zero on our streets and sidewalks. Zero in our bike lanes and bus lanes.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 9,560 people died on roadways in the first quarter of 2022, the largest number of first-quarter fatalities since 2002.
Homendy expressed concern over the increased risk of injury and death caused by larger automobiles, particularly electric vehicles (EVs).
“I’m concerned about the increased risk of severe injury and death for all road users from heavier curb weights and increasing size, power, and performance of vehicles on our roads, including electric vehicles,” said Homendy in her remarks.
EV batteries are generally considered to be safe, however, the likelihood of injury and death are significantly increased when these vehicles are involved in roadway accidents.
She noted the weight difference between the battery packs of internal-combustion-engine (ICE) vehicles and electric vehicles:
“A GMC Hummer EV weighs over 9,000 pounds, up from about 6,000 pounds. Its gross vehicle weight rating is a staggering 10,550 pounds. The battery pack alone weighs over 2,900 pounds, about the weight of a Honda Civic,” said Homendy.
Battery pack size can have a drastic impact on the safety of electric vehicles (EVs) in the event of car accidents. If they are damaged in an accident, larger battery packs containing more energy pose a higher risk of explosion further endangering people’s lives.
However, the NTSB chair made it clear that she supported the Biden administration’s plan to install EV chargers along interstate highways.
“I’m inspired by the administration’s commitment to phasing out carbon emissions. I support their drive toward electric vehicles. We do have a climate crisis that needs to be addressed,” said Homendy. “But we have to be careful that we aren’t also creating unintended consequences, more death on our roads.”
Innovative solutions in the infrastructure industry have the potential to reduce the likelihood of such consequences by improving safety and reducing accidents. One of those solutions is positive work zone protection (PWP), which reduces preventable injuries and deaths of construction workers as well as drivers on the road.
PWP refers to measures that physically separate workers and equipment from traffic. Rather than relying on warning signs and traffic control devices to alert drivers to the presence of a work zone, these measures include the use of hardened barriers.
Moveable barrier technologies, such as Lindsay Corporation’s Road Zipper, allow for the easy transfer of reusable t-shaped barriers that connect to form a continuous wall. As a result, the zipper system provides drivers with a safer and faster way to merge, manages congestion and improves the way vehicles move on the road.
The fight to zero deaths on our roadways is attainable. Through mainstreaming life-saving innovations, the infrastructure industry can help make that goal a reality.