Too many people are injured in preventable traffic-related incidents. Guest columnists Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and David Fleming write about what people can do to make everyone safer. They also invite people to share their ideas at two Road Safety Summit meetings.
A HUNDRED years ago, the leading causes of preventable death in Seattle were diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Today, traffic-related crashes are a leading cause of death and serious injury. Improving road safety is an important public-health issue. On average, about 26 people die each year in Seattle from traffic injuries, including 11 pedestrians. Two bicyclists die on Seattle roads each year on average, though we are all painfully aware that in 2011, four bicyclists have lost their lives. Between five and 10 times as many people are seriously injured and hospitalized for each person who dies.
A combination of factors is typically involved in fatal and serious injury crashes. Across traffic modes, those include impairment, speed, distraction and failing to yield the right of way. These are not accidents. Accidents happen by chance and are beyond our control. In contrast, these traffic deaths are 100 percent preventable.
Nobody should feel unsafe on our roads. We want to live in neighborhoods where we can let our children play, where we can walk, bike or drive without being afraid. Improving road safety will improve our quality of life as well as our life expectancy.
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Everyone who uses the streets has a role to play in preventing traffic deaths. We convened a Road Safety Summit to hear from members of the public and enlist their help in improving safety. At the first of three summits last month we heard from more than 100 people. They told us they are worried about distracted drivers. They felt not enough people knew about the rules of the road. And pedestrians and bicyclists told us they feel vulnerable simply for being on the street.
There is no silver bullet to solve the problem. Rather, we should think of solutions across the “E’s” of traffic safety — education, enforcement, environment and empathy — because it will take a multifaceted approach to fix our roads and how we use them so that we can all feel and be safe.
Education starts with the public. Everyone needs to know and follow the rules of the road and how to help improve traffic safety. Government runs several traffic safety education programs, and we’d like to hear about how to improve them. Our expectations need to change — we should expect each other to follow road safety rules, but we also can’t pretend that people will 100 percent of the time. When we’re out on the streets, we need to be ready for the unexpected.
Enforcement matters, too. We are making progress, thanks to efforts like Target Zero, which aims for zero traffic deaths by 2030. Speed and DUI patrols have led to a 27 percent decrease in fatalities associated with a vehicle crash. Let us know how we can improve enforcement on our roads.
We also need a safe environment. That means maintaining and designing streets that work safely for everyone. We’ve filled more than 20,000 potholes this year, and are prioritizing safety in our road-design choices.
And finally, we all need to look out for each other and have more empathy for other people using our roads. That means slow down, watch out, be careful. Everybody wants to get where they’re going safely, and nobody wants to be the one to collide with another person or vehicle on the road.
Government can and will help implement these solutions. But we cannot do it alone.
The public needs to talk about road safety with government, but also with co-workers, neighbors and your friends.
We hope you will participate in the upcoming summits so that together we can create safer, healthier streets for everyone.
Mike McGinn, left, is mayor of Seattle. Dr. David Fleming is director and health officer for Public Health — Seattle and King County