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Almost No One in Congress Has Signed Onto National ‘Vision Zero’ Pledge

Fewer than 10 percent of members of Congress and just 13 percent of Senators have signed a pledge to end a national traffic violence epidemic that's on pace to kill more American residents this year than in decades — and sustainable transportation advocates are demanding their representatives get off the sidelines now.

Following news that federal safety officials had recorded the largest six-month increase in roadway fatalities ever recorded in their history, a coalition of safe streets advocataes including Vision Zero Network and Families for Safe Streets renewed its call for representatives to co-sponsor a basic Congressional resolution that would establish a national goal of ending U.S. traffic deaths by 2050.

The first-of-its-kind action wouldn't be binding, but would put the onus on lawmakers to treat every incident of road violence as a preventable tragedy — in stark contrast to the approach they currently take.

"The U.S. is clearly not doing enough," said Amy Cohen, who co-founded Families for Safe Streets after her then 12-year-old son Sammy Cohen Eckstein, was killed by a reckless driver in 2013 in New York. "It is really shocking that we've never had this goal before; it's a crisis that's been going on year after year, and we've just never treated it with the urgency it deserves."

The latest advocacy push comes two days before Sunday's World Day of Remembrance, during which the bereaved will gather in cities across the country to memorialize loved ones killed on U.S. roads, thanks in part to government inaction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at current fatality rates, more than 40,000 people will die in car crashes this year — and their survivors stress that every single one of those losses takes a devastating and lasting toll that lawmakers must confront.

"We were on a video call about this just yesterday with Sen. [Bernie] Sanders [D-Vt.], and there was a woman on the call who lost her daughter in a crash in a small town in rural Vermont," said Cohen. "There were five teenagers in the car and a motorist was driving recklessly in the wrong direction on a highway, and all five children died. To hear the devastation of the family, the community — it's impossible to describe. And it's happening again and again every day."

Sanders is not among the co-sponsors of the bill, but the lists of the House and Senate sponsors do contain some familiar names: Congressional Bike Caucus Co-Chairman Earl Blumenaeur (D-Ore.), Future of Transportation Caucus founding member Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Ill.), Congressional Progressive Caucus whip Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who introduced a package of infrastructure bills specifically aimed at increasing vulnerable road user safety and loosening car dependency's grip on American cities.

Even two Republican congressmen — Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina — and independent Sen. Angus King of Mine have gotten on board. Advocates are hopeful that with enough pressure, it could become an even more strongly bipartisan issue.

"This is an issue that impacts people in all kinds of communities all across the country, regardless of how they vote," added Cohen. "But apparently, this is the speed at which change is made — which is why we have this problem to begin with. Ending this crisis will require more than one solution, and more than one group of people to implement them. We're pulling for everyone to join us in this fight."

Cohen and her colleagues are urging at least 40 more lawmakers to co-sponsor the pledge by Dec. 1. That deadline got even more critical with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Vision Zero advocates say made some strides towards curbing the national death toll, but doesn't go far enough, especially with regard to mandated vehicle safety standard improvements that lack strong deadlines and critical provisions specifically aimed at saving vulnerable road users' lives.

"We're thrilled with the investment into safety and safe infrastructure with the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure deal, but there were many corners that were cut around safety in that bill," said Cohen. "That's illustrative of why we really need this federal commitment."

A congressional resolution, advocates argue, could pressure state and local agencies to use the coming flood of largely unrestricted highway dollars on street safety projects, such as road diets, rather than projects that make roads more dangerous, like widenings. Paired with the U.S. Department of Transportation's forthcoming "safe systems" strategy, advocates are hopeful the shift will bring about a fundamental cultural change the national street safety dialogue — and that strong policies will follow.

"Honestly, this should be an easy first step," said Cohen. "It's not creating any new funding, any new requirements, any new laws, but some lawmakers still have a hard time accepting it. It all goes back to the problem that we as a society still view these crashes as 'accidents,' not as part of a systemic problem that can be fixed through systematic solutions. But that's what they are."

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