I attended the Safety Performance Measures Target Setting Workshop in Richmond, VA. That lengthy title might not mean much to you. I’ll try to explain why I was excited.
The U.S. Congress requires cities and states to report Performance Measures to the Federal Highway Administration every year, such as bridge conditions, freight movement, and traffic congestion.
The five required Safety Performance Measures are:
- Number of fatalities
- Number of serious injuries
- Rate of fatalities per vehicle mile traveled
- Rate of serious injuries per vehicle mile traveled
- Number of bike/ped fatalities and serious injuries
Recently, Congress also required cities and states to set targets for their Safety Performance Measures. This requirement confused me. What possible fatality target can you choose other than ZERO?
I learned that “setting targets” means to calculate evidence-based “targets”, or forecast. We forecast the number of fatalities we think we’ll have based on the numbers of fatalities we’ve had over the past several years. In Virginia, it’s been declining by about 2%, so Virginia’s target is a 2% decrease.
Congress next directed the Federal Highway Administration to assess whether cities and states are meeting their targets. If Virginia’s traffic fatalities decrease by 2%, we pass! But if we see less than a 2% decrease, we don’t necessarily fail. The Federal Highway Administration will determine if we had any decrease at all. If so, we pass! If not—we fail.
The challenge doesn’t seem to be particularly stringent at first glance. If the trend of the past few years continues, we pass. Sounds like we can do nothing and get an A+!
But that’s not true. We hope that recent efforts to improve traffic safety is one of the factors causing the decline in fatalities (although we know that there are many factors). To pass, we must at least keep doing what we’ve been doing.
What are the consequences for failure? Well, nothing really. I wonder if the original legislation did include consequences, and it was watered down. Still, I’m happy with the outcome, because what elected officials wants their city or state to be the one that had too many traffic fatalities? “What gets measured, gets managed”, and we are moving away from measuring Level of Service—how many cars we can move—and moving toward measuring Safety. What Congress has done is initiated a change in culture.
With 40,000 people dying every year on US roads, it is high time.