The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has a new chief, and she says that to reduce road fatalities, the entire system must shift.
NTSB chief, Jennifer Homendy, who was nominated by US President, Joe Biden, was also one of the investigators of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash. Before her post, she worked extensively on investigating air traffic incidents. With this background, she believes the government and all the stakeholders' approach to road safety needs a "fundamental rethink" similar to how avaition looks at air traffic safety.
Earlier this year, she said that governments and businesses should change the way they look at road and highway safety and must consider the whole system, rather than focusing only on individual driver behavior. She added that the “whole system approach” worked perfectly in aviation, where there were ZERO fatalities in 2020.
“The current approach, which favors automobiles and punishes only drivers for crashes, is clearly not working,” Homedy said Monday in remarks prepared for a speech to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association conference in Denver, Colorado. “If we are going to get to zero, we will have to do something different.”
In the US, there were more than 38-thousand road accident-related deaths this year, which is also the greatest tally since 2007. Out of those numbers, more than 8,700 motor vehicle deaths were reported in the first three months of 2021. That’s up 10.5% from 2020, considering that vehicle miles traveled has declined due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions in place.
Homendy added that, rather than focusing only on drivers, the “Safe System Approach” should also take into account other factors. Such factors include the design of highways which, according to her, might encourage drivers to drive faster, or vehicles sold that are designed to go way beyond the established safe speed limits.
Does the Philippines need a 'rethink' ?
Here in the country, there’s a saying that whatever the reason for a road accident, the driver is automatically “at fault.” For example, if a driver is on a 'No Pedestrian Crossing' road like EDSA, but somebody decides to cross the road (NOT using the pedestrian overpass) and gets hit, the driver will be taken into police custody for Reckless Imprudence. The severity of his punishment will depend on whether the erring pedestrian lives or dies.
In 2019, a proposed law was filed in congress to change that. Under House Bill 1987 or the Philippine Responsible Driving and Accountability Act, filed by Iligan City Representative, Frederick Siao, accident accountability will not be solely the responsibility of the driver but will also consider the pedestrian who might be at fault in the first place.
“Here in this country, if you are a driver who follows the traffic laws but you encounter another motorist or a pedestrian who does not care about those laws and basic courtesy and safety on the road, you are the one who gets charged with the crime of reckless imprudence resulting in either death, injury, or damage to property. House Bill 1987 seeks to overturn that,” Siao said in a statement.
Provisions in the bill can also exempt the driver from traffic violations under the following mitigating circumstances: "...fast driving due to a medical emergency to rush to a hospital for immediate care; pursuit of a suspect in a crime who is fleeing or just fled the scene of a crime; rushing home or to a workplace because of a fire or other disaster; and serious to gross defects in the design of a road or bridge, as well as of traffic signs and warnings."
If this new House Bill is passed into law, abiding motorists can rest easy if they’ve done nothing wrong, particularly if it involves a reckless pedestrian or another vehicle that is clearly violating the law and right of way.