No one loves speed cameras, but they do their job. In the United States, however, adoption of speed cameras is spotty, and in some states, like Texas, cities are blocked from using them altogether. The old 85th percentile rule remains widely used throughout the United States, despite a critical 2017 study from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that acknowledged the rule was originally intended for rural roads, not urban roads, when it was proposed in 1937, nearly 90 years ago.
Bringing default speed limits down to 20 mph, 25 mph, or 30 mph in urban areas is challenging for cities for many reasons, and on top of that, going road by road and installing new signage becomes a costly item for cities.
Municipalities are not just at fault: according to the National League of Cities, an analysis of the 2019 federal crash data detailed that more than half of fatal crashes in cities occurred on roads managed by state DOTs.
It’s clear that passage of safety-first rules will not happen on its own. Local residents, activists, and elected officials must demand them. If there is any lesson from America’s experience with Vision Zero thus far, it is that no one should expect that just an announcement alone will save lives. Just because you put out a plan doesn’t mean the deaths stop the next day.
A Vision Zero announcement will not prevent battles local leaders will face over reallocating street space, reducing car access, or allowing automated traffic enforcement. Traffic Calming studies need to occur to find the right mix of solutions.
If there is truly a desire to implement Vision Zero, it will require communities, municipalities, and states to play a much bigger role and to be serious about and committed to implementing Vision Zero policies, procedures, and design. Money and funding must be allocated.
Today we have a traffic death toll that’s rising faster per mile than at any time since Calvin Coolidge was in the White House. The Secretary of Transportation has repeatedly referred to a “national crisis of fatalities.” What remains unclear is how many Americans are prepared to fight to ensure that Vision Zero promises translate into action.
It seems that people do not feel the sense of a crisis that the Secretary talks about. Unless and until that changes, Vision Zero in the United States is likely to remain just that …“a vision.”