And So It Begins—Vision Zero from the Top Down: NMA E-Newsletter #682

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently announced that his department wants to drastically reduce deadly traffic accidents through vehicle and street design changes. The USDOT also plans to use $14 billion in funding from the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill to encourage the states to make extensive use of speed cameras to enforce lowered speed limits via automated ticketing.

In a plan unveiled in late January 2022, Buttigieg proclaimed, “When it comes to roadway deaths, we have a crisis that is urgent, unacceptable, and preventable.”

On February 2, 2022, the Federal Highway Administration issued guidance on allocating millions for its signature highway safety funding program, part of Biden’s new infrastructure bill. Newsweek headlined with States Encouraged to Implement Speed Cameras as Road Fatalities Keep Rising.

Despite the Washington bluster about a national crisis, US roads are safer than ever. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a USDOT agency, show conclusively the extraordinary safety progression decade by decade:

  • 1979: 34 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled
  • 1989: 17
  • 1999: 55
  • 2009: 15
  • 2019: 11

To date, NHTSA has only provided fatality rate projections for the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. They indicate increases during this period of changing travel patterns, including a 12 percent increase in January to September 2021 over the same period in 2020. stated that last year’s increase reflects increased driving after a pandemic-related drop.

The government’s reaction is to embrace Vision Zero, a movement with the laudable goal of eliminating all traffic deaths. It is also one that has produced dismal results in actual practice, even after some US cities have spent hundreds of millions of dollars under the Vision Zero banner.

These are just a few of the recent headlines that drive home that point:

The USDOT’s 2022 National Roadway Safety Strategy embraces a ‘safe systems’ approach. The National Safety Council calls this plan a way to create roadway environments that forgive human mistakes.

Among the strategy initiatives:

  • Overhaul the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to make it easier for local governments to change speed limits, build crosswalks, bike lanes, and other features that don’t involve vehicles.
  • Rework safety goals state DOTs set for federal road funds. States will be required to demonstrate consistent or improved performance on every safety performance metric developed by the USDOT.
  • Promote road designs that slow vehicles down and encourage drivers to follow posted speed limits.
  • Encourage local implementation of Complete Streets programs, designing roads for all transportation modes with better street lighting and accommodation of transit users.
  • Work with state driver’s licensing agencies to improve the sharing of data and removal from the roads of commercial drivers with drug and alcohol violations.
  • Update the crash-rating system for new vehicles, including specific protections for pedestrians and cyclists.

Sixteen Republican governors have already pushed back on the Biden Administration’s plans for doling out money from the new federal infrastructure law. Their reaction was in response to a letter from infrastructure czar Mitch Landrieu. Landrieu presented formal rules on how the money could be spent to reflect the priorities of creating middle-class jobs, support disadvantaged and underserved communities, advance climate resilience and sustainability, and invest in American manufacturers.

This is not the first time GOP governors have challenged Biden Administration restrictions on how states could use federal money. The state leaders also pushed back against the March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act.

US News and World Report wrote that billions of federal highway dollars are now available for road safety projects like automated traffic cameras. Federal agencies have limited power in telling states how to spend awarded funds. Those limits are going to be put to the test here. States will have to prove they’ve incorporated specific safety projects if they want cash for roads.

Although brief mention is made about speed cameras in the National Roadway Safety Strategy, the backlash has been swift. Within a couple of days of the Buttigieg presentation of the plan, and the Daily Mail UK distributed a story quoting NMA President Gary Biller that media outlets across the country picked up for their news segments.

As Richard Diamond at reported, Fox News host Tucker Carlson blasted the government’s plan to fund speed camera programs with taxpayer money:

“When the country applauded $1.2 trillion going to the roads, bridges, and buildings, a lot of us were dumb enough to think that’s what might actually happen.”

Additional stories critical of the USDOT’s heavy-handed attempt at social engineering:

The federal government is pushing an anti-driving agenda under the guise of safety, with for-profit speed cameras as a key ingredient. In next week’s newsletter, we will look at the sordid history of fraud and corruption in the automated enforcement industry.

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