Carlos Braceras, Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director and the incoming chair of ITS America, discussed his state’s goal of reducing traffic fatalities to zero during a presentation at INTERSECT17. He said the key to understanding the crash issue, is in first understanding the reason for transportation system. “Fundamentally, every transportation system was built for one reason; to grow the economy,” he said. Going a step further, he said that the job of any department of transportation is to operate with virtual anonymity. Pointing out that the criteria that define success are to get to zero crashes, to optimize mobility and preserve the infrastructure. “When we do a really good job, when we’re really being successful, nobody knows we exist.”
Utah DOT has identified five primary reasons for traffic crashes: not wearing seatbelts, distracted driving, speeding or aggressive driving, driving impaired and drowsy driving. In 2002, in a courageous step, the department decided to take responsibility for reducing the number of traffic fatalities. “This is the thing that keeps me up at night,” he said. The safety of my employees and the safety of the public, and every time there’s a serious accident, I get a text message.” He argued that the single item that could make the greatest impact in reducing crashes and fatalities is the consistent wearing of seatbelts. While only 15% of Utah’s population don’t wear seatbelts, their numbers account for 50% of the crash fatalities in the state.
The “Vision Zero” program took direct aim at schools and teen drivers who represent a disproportionate percentage of crash fatalities. With a public awareness campaign, media coverage, school events and a memorial wall featuring photos and profiles of many of the teens who’ve died on Utah’s roads, Braceras showed that the numbers were reduced from a high of well over 300 to a low in the low 200’s in a few years. But the battle is not over. Braceras also discussed how big data could play into safety as well as mobility moving forward. “We’re going to be the first DOT in the country to have full time situational awareness,” he said. “I’m going to know when a car hits a pothole.”