Caution, Safer Roads Ahead!
How safe are New Hampshire’s roadways? According to crash data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), New Hampshire has some of the safest roads in the country. Only Massachusetts and Minnesota have a lower number of deaths per 100 million miles traveled. Still, nearly 600 people are seriously injured or killed on New Hampshire’s roadways each year.
What should New Hampshire’s goal for traffic safety be? Personally, the goal for me and my family is zero. Zero people injured, zero people killed. I strongly believe tasks such as commuting to work, going to the grocery store, or walking to my favorite restaurant shouldn’t come with the risk of being seriously injured or killed. It turns out that I’m not alone in this belief.
Vision Zero is a global movement that began in Sweden in 1997. The goal of Vision Zero is to eliminate fatal and serious injury crashes. In 2022, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) kicked off its own Vision Zero program titled, Driving Toward Zero, which set a goal of zero roadway deaths and serious injuries by the year 2050. Sounds great, but is it even achievable? If Driving Toward Zero is the goal, then the Safe Systems Approach is the road map. The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Safe System Approach is principles-based guidance to achieve safer roadways. However, it may be beneficial to understand why we need a new approach in the first place.
Modern transportation planning and engineering are relatively newer sciences. U.S. transportation infrastructure as we know it today was born in the 1920s when we began numbering highways. Following World War II, the government took an increased interest in a connected highway network, which lead to the creation of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Interstate System. America created a transportation model where people could go wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted to, by means of their own personal automobile.
However, the freedom of mobility has come at a cost. Over the past decade, serious injuries and fatal crashes have been trending in the wrong direction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021. That’s the highest number of roadway deaths since 2005. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law recognizes these shortcomings and is providing resources and funding in areas of need. New programs, such as the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A), aim to prevent roadway deaths and serious injuries. The SS4A program will appropriate $5 billion in funds over five years and will prioritize solutions that promote the Safe Systems Approach principles and guidance.
Under these new federal programs, transportation engineers and planners are focusing on critical areas to improve roadway safety. In New Hampshire, many of our roadway fatalities are related to roadway departures. Countermeasures such as rumble strips, curve warning signing, and geometry improvements can be implemented system-wide to better keep vehicles on the road, and in their lane.
A key factor in serious injury and fatal crashes is speed. Look for transportation professionals to promote solutions that reduce speeds, such as roundabouts. Many New Englanders confuse modern roundabouts with their older cousin, rotaries, which are much larger intersections designed to move traffic at higher speeds. Rotaries still exist today at locations such as the Portsmouth Circle or the Epsom Circle. Modern roundabouts are much smaller and reduce speeds and eliminate angle crashes, which significantly improves intersection safety. Despite many opinions that roundabouts are confusing and dangerous, the facts say otherwise. Roundabouts reduce injury crashes at intersections by 76%, even better, they reduce fatal crashes by over 90%! Roundabouts will have an important role to play in eliminating serious injuries and fatal crashes.
The Safe System Approach isn’t just about building safer infrastructure, it’s about all of us. We not only need safer roads, but safer vehicles, and better post-crash care. Goals like NHDOT’s Driving Toward Zero cannot be achieved without changes across the transportation industry and our mindsets. We already have a great example of how systemic changes in safety and industry can eliminate deaths. Flying on a US commercial airline is one of the safest transportation modes, primarily because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took a principles-based approach to safety. Our roadway infrastructure can evolve the same way airway transportation has.
New Hampshire is already one of the safest states to drive in, but we can still do better. Historically, New Hampshire has been a leader and we should strive to be the first state to achieve zero deaths and serious injuries on our roadways. And why not? The first municipal recycling center in the U.S. opened in Nottingham, our modern banking system was negotiated at Bretton Woods, and Allan Shepard of Derry was the first American in space! Our state is full of firsts, let’s make New Hampshire the first State to achieve ZERO roadway fatalities.
Jordan Pike, PE, PTOE, is a Senior Transportation Engineer with HEB Engineers, Inc. Jordan may be reached by phone at 603.356.6936 or via email at email@example.com. Members are encouraged to watch the March 29, 2023, webinar, Stepping up for Local Road Safety- Actionable Guidance for Safer Streets, with Jordan and Marilee Enus, Director with UNH Technology Transfer Center. Members may access this webinar via our webinar archive on NHMA’s website.