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Let’s Make Cars that Don’t Kill

We’re going to keep repeating it because we can’t ignore this crisis: more people are dying while biking and walking in America. In 2018, pedestrian fatalities reached a 28-year high of 6,227 in the United States, up 51 percent from 10 years prior. In 2018, bicyclist fatalities reached a 30-year high of 854, up 36 percent from 10 years prior.

In response, many cities and states have embraced Vision Zero – the moral proposition and policy strategy that acknowledges traffic deaths are preventable and transportation systems are responsible for preventing them. Congress is heeding advocates calls for safer streets with legislative efforts like the SAFE Streets ActComplete Streets Act, and increased funding for bicycle and pedestrian safety in the Senate’s America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act.

However, all too often a simple place to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety is overlooked: how cars and trucks are made–or not made–safe for people. The United States is years behind other countries in ensuring that cars and trucks are designed and built to not kill people biking and walking. Fixing this is one of the posts in the framework of our Bike New Deal, to make the “U.S. a leader again on vehicle and road safety standards.”

Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it would propose updates to its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in 2020. NCAP is responsible for rating new cars based on their safety performance. In its announcement, NHTSA said it “will also consider new technologies tied to the safety of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users such as cyclists.”

In November, we may have seen a preview of that consideration. Unfortunately, that consideration is not “a Strategy for Curtailing SUVs and Monster Trucks,” or a recognition that better safety systems can “potentially mitigate or prevent up to 47 percent of crashes with bicyclists and 54 percent of bicyclist fatalities,” or that “Male-Focused Testing Puts Female Drivers at Risk.” 

Instead, the preview considers a future where vehicle safety continues to overlook the rise in pedestrian and bicycle deaths, and the evolving demographics of America. In asking for comments on research tests for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), the building block technologies that one day will help us have Automated Vehicles, NHTSA:

  • Does not consider any research testing on detecting bicyclists,
  • Does not include female pedestrian crash targets in research testing, and
  • Does not consider or describe testing scenarios that have been publicly tested in Europe for years, such as pedestrian automated emergency braking in low-light conditions.

Please join the League of American Bicyclists in telling NHTSA that their proposed test procedures are inadequate because they do not address common conditions of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities.


The United States was recently ranked 33rd out of 40 developed countries in road safety. The United States must do more to make its roads safer for all people, and one step should be – and can be – committing to making cars that don’t kill. 

If automated vehicles are going to save lives, it starts with committing to use the technologies that are available today and making sure that they work for all people, whether they bike or walk, whether they are men or women, whether they are black or white. As I said in our congressional Briefing two weeks ago, now is the time to put safety first and make sure that no one is left out as vehicles get safer. 

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