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Biden administration introduces plan to lower speed limits and expand bike lanes in bid to reach 'zero' traffic fatalities

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Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lower speed limits and more bike lanes may soon be coming to your community, courtesy of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Buttigieg told the Associated Press Thursday that the Biden administration is preparing to roll out a new "safe system" plan designed to decrease traffic fatalities nationwide. The plan comes as new federal data will be released this week showing traffic fatalities significantly increased in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. The AP reported that the half-year traffic death total for 2020 was 20,160, the highest half-year figure since 2006.

“It doesn’t look good, and I continue to be extremely concerned about the trend,” Buttigieg said.

“Somehow it has become over the years and decades as normal, sort of the cost of doing business,” he added. "“Even through a pandemic that led to considerably less driving, we continue to see more danger on our roads.”

According to the Department of Transportation, almost 95% of transportation deaths in the U.S. occur on its streets, roads, and highways.

“We cannot tolerate the continuing crisis of roadway deaths in America. These deaths are preventable, and that's why we're launching the National Roadway Safety Strategy today - a bold, comprehensive plan, with significant new funding from President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” Buttigieg said in a statement.

The transportation secretary's plan to reach "zero roadway fatalities" is to spend $5 billion in grants and issue guidance encouraging cities to lower speed limits, adopt safer road design by creating dedicated bike and bus lanes, and improve street lighting and crosswalks.

Funding for the grants was included in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law signed by President Joe Biden, which also included $4 billion in funding for the Highway Safety Improvement Program, DOT said.

The agency added that roadway safety is "inextricably linked with the Biden-Harris Administration's equity and climate goals," observing that traffic fatalities "disproportionately affect communities of color, people living in rural areas, people with disabilities, and older adults."

Other components of the plan include pilot programs to study and promote increased use of traffic cameras; updates to the federal manual that sets the requirements for U.S. street markings and design; regulations mandating automatic emergency braking in all new passenger vehicles; new standards for car safety performance; and enforcing requirements from the infrastructure law for automakers to install anti-drunken driving technology in motor vehicles.

At a press conference announcing the strategy, Buttigieg cited Hoboken, New Jersey as an example of a U.S. city that has achieved zero traffic fatalities by making roadway improvements like curb extensions and better-timed traffic lights.

“Today we commit that our goal is this: zero. Our goal is zero deaths," Buttigieg said.

"The decision to commit to that goal in a serious way at a national level changes the way cities and towns design roads, changes the way companies build cars, changes the way people drive.”

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