Since its founding 50 years ago, the top U.S. agency for investigating transportation injuries had been suprisingly quiet about a phenomenon that's behind 30 percent of U.S. traffic fatalities.
Like much of the country's transportation safety establishment, the National Transportation Safety Board had frequently avoided the subject of the speed of private cars. It did so even though the issue has been coming up since the very first collision the agency investigated, in Joliet, Illinois, in 1967.
Avoided the subject until this month, that is.
In a groundbreaking report released last week, the federal agency laid the foundations for a major rethinking of transportation safety practices. The big idea in short, as Kathleen Ferrier puts it: "speed kills."
"It's the first time that we've seen national leadership on speed, and it's coming from an authoritative voice," said Ferrier, policy and communications manager for the Vision Zero Network, a campaign to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries. "The relationship between crashes and fatalities is complex, but the relationship between speed and crashes is very clear. Speed makes crashes more likely and the severity of injury more deadly."
Though people walking and biking have the most to lose in any conversation about safety, many advocates of low-car transportation also overlook the importance of traffic speed.
"I've been a bike/ped advocate for years and we've talked more about safe design than about speed," Ferrier said.
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