Eliminating Traffic Injuries and Fatalities: All City of Madison Employees Must Join Vision Zero for it to Work!
by Mahanth Joishy, Fleet Superintendent
Vehicle safety and traffic safety are a matter of life and death each minute of every day. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 38,680 people died in motor traffic collisions in the United States alone in 2020. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.3 million people die each year globally. That’s about 2.5 premature deaths per second.
In our own area, we are not immune from fatality or injury on the roadways. Dane County had experienced 35 fatalities and counting just by August 2021, a rise from previous years despite less miles driven. These local, national, and global statistics do not include millions of crippling and permanent injuries among drivers, passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists who survive. Society can’t even attempt to keep track of those. They’re not just gruesome numbers. Most of us know friends and relatives whose families’ lives were permanently altered by fatality or injury in just one instant- unless it was an incident of our own.
What is the worst part of all of this? 99+ % of these collisions are PREVENTABLE.
Analyzing thousands of traffic collisions for City government in a pretty miserable deep dive spanning over 20 years including too many fatalities and injuries to count, has provided me some harsh perspective. Human error is pretty much the ballgame. Unless a tree flying into a car due to an unforeseen tornado, an avalanche of snow falling off a mountain onto a windshield, a deer in the headlights or some other such rare “act of nature” occurs, that collision simply should not have happened. In fact, using simple defensive driving techniques or temporarily grounding a vehicle in rough conditions, and most of that would go away too. That’s where Vision Zero comes in - and the good news is that City of Madison is an official Vision Zero City (WATCH) since July 23, 2020 as announced by Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and a wide group of City divisions and outside partners, led by the Traffic Engineering Division and Department of Transportation. According to the philosophy behind Vision Zero, just about every crash can be prevented using design improvements, targeted enforcement, data collection, vehicle safety technologies, and driver training.
Vision Zero is a global strategic movement, started by a team of pioneering policymakers in Sweden in 1997 who earnestly believed that no traffic fatality or injury is ever acceptable. Many countries, cities, states, nonprofit groups, and private companies have locked arms to join Vision Zero around the world, and the results are often dramatically positive. For example, Sweden has reduced traffic fatalities by half since 2020.
My team at Fleet and I are highly committed to making the vehicles, equipment and you, the drivers the safest possible. In all of our complex maintenance and vehicle purchasing systems, we aim to provide the best possible options for the mission without compromising on either safety or environmental sustainability. We’d like to see zero injury and fatality with City drivers from now on. We have an extensive toolbox to accomplish this, with your help, and we have started using every tool available.As part of Madison Vision Zero, here are initiatives Fleet has rolled out with our partner agencies, and will continue to roll out. If you are ever a driver or a passenger in a City vehicle or even a personal vehicle at any time, you can be part of the solution! It will take nothing less than a revolution of safety to get where we want to be by 2030: zero injuries or fatalities on Madison’s roads. We as City employees are responsible for setting the example.
- A completely overhauled APM 2-13, which clarifies, shortens, and updates the City driver policy along with brand new safety features. The most important update is the ban on cellular phone use while driving any City vehicle, both handheld AND hands-free devices. Did you know that 26% of all collisions are caused by drivers fumbling with their cell phones for calls, texts, emails, games, etc.? Did you know that over 30 research studies have proven that hands-free sets are NO safer than handheld ones? By following this practice while driving your personal vehicle- or politely asking the driver to follow it, if you are a passenger- our community will be safer for it.
- In 2021, we launched the Safest Driver Award as part of the #TeamCity Awards. 39 outstanding daily drivers with clean driving records, who drive for half or more of their work week, were chosen by agency management and received the recognition from Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway on March 26. We will continue this tradition in future years.
- Over 700 City vehicles in public works and policing have received GPS tracking devices, which are actively tracking 24/7 all instances of speeding, idling, seat belt usage, hard braking, hard acceleration, and other dangerous behaviors. They are also being used for locating vehicles in real time and investigating smart routing operations. GPS reporting is being used by participating agencies to coach drivers on improving their driving. We are also learning a great deal about aggregate driver behaviors throughout the different geographical areas of the City.
- On every single vehicle purchase, we are requesting the manufacturer to provide the safest possible technology options for that model and tracking these technologies in our systems. These include Advanced Driver Alert Systems (ADAS), automatic emergency braking (AEB), backup cameras, side view cameras, extra mirrors, cab-over trucks for higher visibility, daytime running headlights, and other automated features. This is a very exciting time to be involved in vehicle safety technology, and Madison will be a global leader in this area.
- We will be rolling out Vision Zero bumper stickers for City vehicles, with a number for the public to report dangerous driving behaviors such as speeding or red light running. Every instance will be referred to the responsible fleet owning agency. This rollout includes an academic research study on the campaign’s effectiveness with the Harvard University Kennedy School- with the goal to create the definitive such study to ever be undertaken by any fleet.
- For the first time in our City’s history, we are closely tracking the collisions and associated costs incurred by City vehicles. By tracking collision costs accurately- including body damage, insurance and legal payouts, worker’s compensation, etc. we can finally calibrate the allocation of resources to attack this problem because we actually know the financial impact. This is thanks to a partnership with Risk Management to create a collision database using a set of defined protocols and gather collision trends that could help make us safer. For example, how often do we strike non-moving objects? How often are crashes due to sideswipes, rear-ending, backing up, emergency related, etc.? How do we compare year on year? This data is valuable to inform our work and allocate our precious resources (please note the below is incomplete).
- In 2021 we have launched a Vision Zero Driver Safety Training that will soon be open to all City employees. This 2-hour course, being held at Nakoosa Trail with a detailed multimedia presentation was developed with all levels of driver in mind from beginner to advanced. Its areas of focus include a primer on Vision Zero, a number of defensive driving techniques, explanation of new technology and GPS, pedestrian/bicyclist awareness, the revamped APM 2-13 and cell phone ban, videos of collisions, and lively discussions among the participants about their life experiences on the road. So far, we have trained over 50 employees in 4 different departments.
- In the last few years Fleet has ramped up outreach efforts around Vision Zero and vehicle safety. We presented on our work and exchanged best practices with other fleets in various webinars and special events including the 2019 New York City Vision Zero Fleet Safety Forum. I am sharing this message with all City employees and others as well- along with many other safety messages sprinkled throughout the year. Finally, our website and social media have a focus on safety and much more.
- In 2022, Fleet will be reaching out to hundreds of our partner organizations including dealerships, unions, employee associations, repair shops, auto manufacturers, private fleets, government fleets, academia, etc. to ENDORSE Madison's Vision Zero plan and SUPPORT our commitment to eliminating all traffic injuries and fatalities on our roadways for good, with their help and accepting our best practices, including following our lead on the cell phone ban.
Achieving the goal of Vision Zero will take the efforts of us all. I hope you will join in these efforts to keep ourselves and those around us safe on the roadways. And remember: when you slow down, not only are you driving more safely; you are saving gasoline, money, and emissions for you and all of those driving behind you. They may not be- but they should be thanking you!
Thank you to David Coy and the Fleet team for spearheading Vision Zero initiatives for City drivers.