November 21 is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. It is a day to honor the 1.3 million lives lost each year around the world in motor vehicle crashes.
Today, I urge everyone to take a moment to remember all those who have lost loved ones in crashes, as millions have done around the world since 1995. Here in the United States, traffic deaths are up 18 percent over the first half of 2020. We are on pace to lose 40,000 Americans this year alone.
My thoughts are with all who have lost loved ones, but especially those I’ve met who lost loved ones in crashes that the NTSB has investigated, and the survivor advocates I’ve gotten to know over the years.
We need to remember these numbers are people from our communities. They are lives lost: mothers, fathers, or children suddenly, permanently gone; brothers and sisters absent from holiday gatherings; friends missing from a baby shower. We record our losses in data tables, but we feel them at the dinner table, and in the graduations, weddings, and birthdays never celebrated.
At a November 10 virtual roundtable on the need for our nation to transition to a Safe System approach, I called for a moment of silence in advance of the World Day of Remembrance. I said then that, for the NTSB, the toughest part of our job is facing family members after a tragedy, explaining that their loved one’s death was 100 percent preventable and that we’ve issued recommendations which, if acted upon, would have prevented the crash and the loss of their loved one.
Then I said that we need a paradigm shift in how we address this ever-growing public health crisis.
For 26 years now, the world has memorialized the victims of motor vehicle crashes, and we have been right to remember them. No loss should be forgotten. But these are unnecessary losses. They must not be remembered only in words.
They deserve and demand action now.
They demand to be remembered with road treatments, traffic calming measures, engineering speed assessments, road safety laws, and other investments that will result in safe roads and safe speeds on those roads.
They demand to be remembered with the manufacture of safe vehicles that should come standard with better technology for avoiding collisions, including collisions with pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.
They must be remembered with vehicle sizes and shapes that are less likely to result in the pedestrian and bicyclist deaths that we have seen so often.
They demand to be remembered with ignition interlocks for all impaired drivers, in the development of in-vehicle alcohol detection technology, and in fair and just traffic law enforcement.
They demand to be memorialized with increased investments in alternative modes of transportation, like public transit, which will reduce crashes on our roads, in newly changed laws to improve road safety, and in the enforcement of existing laws.
But most of all, these victims should be remembered as what they were: flesh and blood. Human. Vulnerable.
Put that image at the center of all the other aspects of our roads, and you’ll see the road as we must in order to finally make it safe. Don’t think of numbers, think of people. Put them at the center of every decision about our road system. That’s the paradigm shift that we need—to make our many layers of traffic hazards into layers of traffic protection, so that when crashes happen, nobody pays for it with their life.
This Day of Remembrance, let’s remember that the candle we light to remember victims is more than just a memorial; it’s a light showing the way to a safer tomorrow.