Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Funding Transportation Safety: It’s not a concrete matter

The first core value of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is "Maintain safety as a priority". We may think of safety as sound roads and bridges managed by MnDOT, but many key road safety programs are run by the Department of Public Safety (DPS). DPS has 11 divisions, 3 of which affect road safety: Driver and Vehicle Services which verifies proper driver education, the State Patrol which seeks to stop unsafe driving behaviors, and the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) which is charged with reducing road fatalities. OTS administers the state's Towards Zero Deaths (TZD) program which seeks to continually reduce road fatalities.
TZD was formed in 2004 in response to a federal funding requirement that each state formulate a Strategic Highway Safety Plan by 2006. TZD is a multi-agency program whose primary members include DPS, MnDOT, the Department of Public Health and the University of Minnesota. The strategy focuses on the "Four E's": Education, Engineering, Enforcement and Emergency Medical Services.

Education includes driver's education and safety presentations in school. Education also includes public service announcements like "Click it or ticket" and "Over the limit, under arrest."

Enforcement is all levels of police. The three behaviors targeted by enforcement are driving while intoxicated (DWI), seat belt compliance and speeding. One enforcement program steps up state, county and local DWI enforcement in the 13 counties with the most DWI-related deaths and injuries. Statewide alcohol related deaths have averaged 171 between 2005-2009 with a downward trend as 2009 saw 141, a record low since being tracked in 1984. (1) Another enforcement program is seat belt use bolstered by the new Seat Belt Safety Act of 2009. Seat belt use is now at an all-time high of 92%, up from just 79% in 2003. (1)

For engineering, possibly the most visible new implementation is the new cable median barrier. Minnesota see an average of 15 deaths per year as a result of vehicles crossing over the median and into oncoming traffic. (2) In a 12-mile segment between Maple Grove and Rogers, MnDOT installed the new barrier in 2004. From 2001-2003, there had been 5 crossover fatalities and since installation there have been zero. (3) Other less noticeable engineering advances include more roadway lighting, more visible signs and road markings and rumble strips which vibrate the tires when a driver wanders from the lane.

The forth "E", Emergency Medical and Trauma Services addresses victims after the crash. Of the approximately 42,000 road fatalities nationally, 20,000 die at the crash scene and many of the remaining 22,000 die at the hospital because they arrived there too late. Of the 20,000 who die at the scene, 6,500 are in an urban setting and 13,500 are in a rural setting where rescue operations are likely further away. (4) State and local entities are teaming up to decrease crash response times as another approach to reduce fatalities.

So what's the budget for road safety? Unlike roads and bridges, there's no concrete way to tally all safety-related expenses. Many parties contribute including law enforcement agencies, schools, hospitals, bars, emergency response teams and research programs. To further complicate matters, some receive state or federal grants while others are funded locally or are funded as a part of everyday expenses, e.g. teacher salaries. The good news is that we can demonstrate some savings. Minnesota had 655 road fatalities in 2003 and 421 in 2009, a 35.7% reduction in 6 years. (5) The amounts to a savings of $1.357 billion based on the Federal Highway Administration's estimate of $5.8 million per road fatality. (6) Also, Minnesota is now among the best states for road fatality rates (see interactive map above). Of course each life is priceless so the ultimate goal is zero. So write your legislator to spare public safety programs from budget cuts as the benefits outweigh the program costs, on and off paper.


No comments:

Post a Comment