Today I visited the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety at the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. There, I saw first-hand the exciting research they are doing to make our roads safer, and announced that the University will be home to a national clearinghouse for information about the best way to make our rural roads safer.
Over the past decades, we have made great progress in improving safety and reducing deaths nationally—but rural roads are still some of our most dangerous. Even though rural roads carry less than half of America’s traffic, they are home to over half of the nation’s vehicular deaths.
That is why Secretary Peters asked me to lead the Department’s Rural Safety Initiative—a national strategy to improve rural safety by bringing new focus, including resources and new technology, to a growing safety problem.
Rural areas face a number of unique highway safety challenges. Rural crashes are more likely to be at higher speeds, victims in rural areas tend to be unbelted, and it often takes first responders longer to arrive at the scene of a rural crash, leaving victims waiting longer to be taken to a hospital. And of course, outdated roadway designs and hazards such as utility poles and trees close to the roadway are major contributors to rural crashes.
Smarter, low-cost options like rumble strips and improved signage are readily available and can be deployed quickly. In metro areas, these solutions are already being implemented and working.
The groundbreaking research being conducted at the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety, including the smart vehicles I saw, is exactly the type of innovation and forward thinking we need to reduce fatalities on our rural roads.
The central mission at the Center is to provide a national platform on which we can share these solutions. We’re going to distribute the lessons that are being learned here by this institution’s researchers and by researchers around the nation to transportation officials and first responders nationwide.
The University will collect and distribute lessons that are being learned by transportation officials that are successfully combating rural road fatalities. The only way we will cut the number of deaths and injuries on the nation’s roads is by finding a way to get officials the right information at the right time. The University of Minnesota is going to do just that.
Improving safety on our rural roads is a challenge that we have the experience, the ability, and the resources to address. We can make our rural roads safer, and, with the contribution of the University of Minnesota, we can do it now.
-Deputy Secretary Barrett