The Department of Transportation is now more than 2 years into implementation of its National Roadway Safety Strategy and carrying out Congress’ historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In the NRSS, DOT notes “Our vision is simple: that every trip of every kind on our nation’s streets, roads, and highways should end with a safe arrival.” When trying to measure the success of these two large undertakings, it is hard to know if DOT is getting closer to its vision. Indeed, while DOT’s NRSS dashboard shows progress on initiatives and programs, it does not articulate what is being measured and how these initiatives are impacting fatalities and crashes. While action words like address, unify, implement, improve, expand and increase are used, no specific measurements are articulated – leaving the reader to question how to know if we are making progress?

It’s not just new programs we’re having trouble measuring either.  Think ELDs, the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, Hours of Service changes, National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners, New Entrant Safety Assurance Program, CSA, etc., or even further back with programs like the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, the CDL program and roadability among others. Most of these enjoy wide agreement about their presumed safety benefits, and many came up with specific predicted life-saving statistics (which are required when regulations are implemented). Sadly, proving the success of these programs is illusive.

The government continues to build these big programs, filled with promises to reduce crashes and save lives. But sadly, since 2009 the number of crashes and fatalities has been on the rise. As we look back on these programs, we’ve not been able to assess whether they have been effective at saving lives and reducing crashes. What is clear is something is not working. Is it that the programs or regulations are not working or are ineffective, or do we need new measures of success? In defense of the DOT, the highway safety challenge is real and significant. It can be difficult to measure. It takes a village. There are limitations on what DOT can do to affect safety. However, the government has a responsibility to explain to its citizens how it is spending their money and ensuring it is done wisely and effectively. There are a plethora of safety regulations, policies, programs, and research efforts underway with new ones continually being created. Do we know which ones are working and which ones are not? Should we eliminate those that are not working, or will we just continue to add new ones in hopes that they will be the saviors for safety?

For its part, the industry can tell you what works for them, and they can measure impacts. They continually evolve and innovate. It is imperative for them because if they are not successful, then they no longer have a business.

Over the course of the next several months we will be publishing a series of articles to talk about how we should be measuring the success or failure of these safety programs. We will touch on efforts that are working, and where there are opportunities for improvement. With a presidential election coming, as well as the reauthorization of the highway bill up for negotiation in 2025, we are hopeful this will serve as fodder to help us to collectively reach the vision that DOT has set out. We also want to hear from our readers, let us know what is working and how you are measuring success. DOT needs our help, and we want to be a productive collaborator and contributor to assist them in realizing their vision, because we believe in it too.

And don’t forget to send us your suggestions, we want to hear from you!