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Three things bicyclists will like about the NTSB’s “Most Wanted List”

Every year the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) publishes a list of its “most wanted” safety enhancements for our nation’s roadways, airways, and waterways. While the NTSB rarely directly addresses bicyclist or pedestrian safety, many of the “most wanted” safety efforts point to big potential improvements for people who bike and walk. Here are our three biggest takeaways for bicyclists from the NTSB’s latest “most wanted” list:

1. Eliminate Distractions

Bicyclists know all too well the danger of distracted driving. From our saddles we have a perspective that allows us to easily see the many drivers attempting to talk, text, or do other tasks that leave them far from engaged in piloting a multi-ton vehicle. According to the NTSB “In 2016, more than 3,100 fatal crashes involving distraction occurred on US roadways (9% of all fatal crashes that year).” 

The NTSB’s recommendations to combat this danger involve legislation, education, and enforcement. This includes banning the use of personal electronic devices while driving. While 38 states and the District of Columbia ban the use of cell phones for novice drivers, no state currently bans cell phone use for all drivers.

The NTSB also calls on vehicle manufacturers to do a better job of considering distraction when designing in-car infotainment systems. AAA has found that many in-car infotainment systems increase distraction. While there does not appear to be any regulatory action contemplated in the United States or globally, if vehicle manufacturers fail to proactively design safer systems then this danger should be addressed through regulatory tools such as the New Car Assessment Program.

What the League is Doing

Over the next year the League intends to partner with the Adventure Cycling Association to develop a distracted driving campaign focused on the unique perspectives of bicyclists impacted by distracted driving. The first action as part of that partnership will be a session at the National Bike Summit where we discuss our current analysis of the opportunity to combat distracted driving and listen to bicyclist perspectives to inform our next steps.

2. Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Speeding-Related Crashes

Despite speeding being involved in about the same percentage of traffic fatalities as intoxication, speeding is normalized in our traffic culture. This is doubly dangerous as, according to the NTSB, “posted speed limits are predominantly based on observed operating speeds, [and] widespread speeding can lead to an undesirable cycle of higher speed limits, still higher operating speeds, and increased fatalities.”

In 2017, the NTSB completed a special study on speeding which provided a wealth of recommendations for how to combat high speeds and speeding. One of those recommendations was to change engineering guidance that reinforces the feedback loop of speeding leading to higher posted speeds. In January, the National Council on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) acted on that recommendation, removing the primary source of the feedback loop and guiding engineers to consider “pedestrian and bicycle activity.” The League of American Bicyclists is a member of the NCUTCD in order to be able to impact the debates within the traffic engineering profession and promote better, safer, outcomes.

What the League is Doing

The League is a member of the NCUTCD in order to influence decisions like the one that led to the reforms adopted in January. We intend to continue to engage with the NCUTCDand other organizations to influence vehicle speeds.

3. Increase Implementation of Crash Avoidance Systems in All New Highway Vehicles

Sometimes it can appear that automated vehicles are right around the corner and will make people who bike, and all people, much safer. When we focus only on the promise of technology to improve safety, we can overlook the very real advanced safety features that are currently available and can currently save lives. The NTSB highlights two crash avoidance systems that currently exist and where actions can be taken to save lives now: 1) collision warning, and 2) automated emergency braking (AEB).

Bicyclists and pedestrians have a lot to gain from more rapid implementation of crash avoidance systems. A 2015 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that “systems designed with the three most common deadly crash scenarios in mind have the potential to help mitigate or prevent up to 26 percent of bicycle crashes and 52 percent of fatal crashes.”

Unfortunately, while the European Union implemented a test for the effective of AEB systems reacting to bicyclists last year there is no equivalent testing in the United States. Automakers, IIHS, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reached a voluntary agreement that AEB systems will be standard in all cars by 2022, but there is no indication that these standard systems will be effective at avoiding or mitigating crashes with people biking or walking. 

In 2016, the League helped organize more than 200 comments calling for NHTSA to evaluate AEB systems for the safety of people who bike or walk, but we are not aware of any timeline for this evaluation and NHTSA’s website only saysthey “may be added to the 5-Star Safety Ratings list of recommended technologies in the future.”

What the League is Doing

Last year the League was a leader in organizing bicyclist and pedestrian groups to oppose the AV START Act, which would have allowed thousands of automated vehicles on our nation’s roadways without basic safety tests. We were successful in preventing that legislation and will seek to engage automakers in a positive conversation around existing crash avoidance systems as a stepping stone to safe and tested automated vehicles.

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