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Remarks by Gregory Nadeau, Deputy Administrator, FHWA

North American Conference on Elderly Mobility

Detroit, Michigan

Monday, May 12, 2014

Good morning, and let me add my welcome to all of you attending this conference.

On behalf of the Federal Highway Administration and the USDOT Safety Council, I thank you for shining a spotlight on the issue of keeping our aging population moving.

I specially want to thank Kirk Steudle and his team at Michigan DOT, and our FHWA Michigan Division office, our DA Russell Jorgenson and his staff, for providing us the opportunity to come together to discuss updates, new technologies and programs that are making a difference.

By your presence at this conference, you recognize the importance of keeping our elderly citizens mobile and engaged in our society.

Their mobility is vital to their quality of life and to their ability to continue making a contribution to their families and their communities.

But as we talk about increasing mobility, improving access and other important transportation issues – one thing is paramount. And that’s safety.

Without question, the safety of our transportation system is the highest priority of the US Department of Transportation .

We reinforced that priority two weeks ago, when Secretary Foxx sent to Congress our proposal for reauthorizing the nation’s surface transportation programs when the current law, MAP-21, expires at the end of the summer.

It’s called the GROW AMERICA Act, and it’s a plan for ensuring the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund and investing in our infrastructure, in jobs, in our economy and in our future.

It reflects what the nation needs to build for the future, not just what the current situation with the Trust Fund or the condition of our roads demands.

We’re proposing a four-year, $302 billion investment in surface transportation – a 37 percent increase over MAP-21. Of that amount, $199 billion would be invested in the nation’s highway program.

We hope our proposal sparks a discussion on Capitol Hill among members of both parties in both houses of Congress. We already see hopeful signs of that starting to happen, and by summer we hope to see proposals from the key House and Senate committees.

Certainly, we welcome everyone’s ideas about how to move forward.

But the GROW AMERICA Act is about more than money.

In addition to providing critical growth to our transportation system, our proposal would:

  • Keep safety at the forefront of our work;

  • Continue to improve project delivery so people see the benefits of projects – including safety benefits – sooner.

I certainly don’t want to suggest that safety is a commitment we hold on our own – far from it.

Safety is a priority we share with an incredibly broad spectrum of state, local and private organizations that build, maintain and operate the multi-modal transportation system we all use each and every day.

And it’s an area where everyone can, and should, do their part.

In terms of highways, transportation professionals across the nation are making investments to improve the safety of our roads for all users:

  • Laying down high-friction surface treatments on curves;
  • Putting up median cable barriers;
  • Putting rumble strips in place to warn people that they’re close to the edge of the road;
  • And putting in place edge treatments to enable drivers to more easily return to the roadway if they do start to leave it.

That last one is something we’re advancing through an innovation initiative called Every Day Counts, where we partner with leaders like Kirk Steudle to find ways to improve project delivery and speed the deployment of new technologies.

Safety is also a priority embraced by all our modal partners at DOT.

For example, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration works to ensure vehicles are equipped with features that save lives – like seat belts, air bags and electronic stability control.

And it’s on the cutting edge of enabling vehicles to communicate with the infrastructure –V2I—and with each other – V2V. And they’re exploring vehicle-to-pedestrian and vehicle-to-bicycle communication as well.

This connected vehicle environment can open doors to even safer vehicles – and safer mobility for everyone.

NHTSA also supports states in addressing road user behavior – wearing seat belts, avoiding distracted driving, and walking and biking safely.

Our partners at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration do their part by working to ensure that commercial motor vehicles operate safely, including limiting the number of hours bus and truck drivers can be on the road.

As a Department, we work with our state, local and industry partners to improve safety by focusing on what we call the 4-Es – engineering, education, enforcement and Emergency Medical Services or EMS.

But one thing is clear. We need the help of the motoring public. There’s simply no substitute for personal responsibility when using the transportation system.

And so we often add a fifth “E” to the list, one that reminds people that everyone has a role to play when it comes to safety. And that starts with the people at FHWA.

Shortly before he was asked to serve as Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department, our FHWA Administrator, Victor Mendez, initiated a Safety Pledge.

The Pledge encourages FHWA employees, as leaders in the transportation community, to be role models for safe behavior when using our transportation system. We owe this to ourselves, our family and our community.

It’s serious business operating a one ton vehicle at any speed. And so, people shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car if they’re impaired, whether it’s from alcohol, drugs – prescription or otherwise – or cognitive or physical impairment.

This also applies to pedestrians and bicyclists. We had 4,743 pedestrian fatalities in 2012. In one-third of those fatalities, it was the pedestrian that was alcohol impaired.

And let’s not forget motorcyclists – a group that I belong to!

Motorcycle fatalities have been trending upward – they’re up 200 percent since 2003 – and the fastest growing population of motorcycle riders that are dying are the older riders, the aging baby boomers, like me.

Helmet use continues to be a concern as the use of DOT-compliant helmets decreased in 2012 compared to the year before.

If you want to relive Easy Rider, you’d better know what you’re doing. An 800 cc bike is a lot of bike to handle physically. And wear a helmet.

So that’s a quick overview of the work we do daily at USDOT to keep our transportation system safe – and the importance of individual responsibility.

In preparation for this conference we also compiled information on a number of successful programs that are in place for older road users.

For example, NHTSA has an Older Driver 5-Year Strategic Plan covering 2012 through 2017, which sets detailed objectives and goals to advance safety for the aging population.

They’ve also recently issued guidance to State Highway Safety Offices on administering federal funds related to the aging population.

The Federal Transit Administration administers grant funds to enhance mobility for seniors and works closely with 12 other Federal agencies through the “United We Ride” initiative to ensure the aging population has safe access to public transportation.

And there’s a lot of good work being done at FHWA.

For example, we oversee the Highway Safety Improvement Program. As part of that program, states are required to develop Strategic Highway Safety Plans.

These are statewide-coordinated plans that identify key safety needs, and guide investment decisions toward the countermeasures with the most potential to save lives.

Developing the State Highway Safety Plan is a data-driven and collaborative process. Over half of the States include an emphasis area in their plan pertaining to older road users.

In addition, organizations that represent older adults, such as AARP, are often at the table when the plan is being developed.

We’re also working with our partners to make improvements to their infrastructure that will help keep an aging population moving safely. This includes:

  • Bigger and brighter signs that are easier to see;
  • Adjustments to stoplight times to give people more time to cross the street;
  • And even improvements to the traffic lights themselves to make them easier to see.

Some of this is being done by regulation, and some by encouragement and partnership.

As I mentioned earlier, our Every Day Counts initiative is also helping make the infrastructure safer for everyone – including seniors.

In our current round of EDC, we’re working with states to change the way intersections are designed.

These new designs make intersections less confusing and safer by reducing what we call the “conflict points” a driver would encounter, for example, trying to make a left turn at a busy intersection.

FHWA also handles the Older Drivers and Pedestrians Special Rule, which requires State DOTs to track fatalities and serious injuries among older drivers and pedestrians.

If a state sees an increase over a two-year period, then they’ll need to include activities to address this issue in their next Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

We’re currently working closely with Rhode Island, Alaska, Arizona and Tennessee - the four States that triggered the Special Rule last year.

Finally, we welcome the chance to play a role in this conference.

I’m pleased that one of the sessions will focus on FHWA’s 2014 Handbook for Designing Roadways for the Aging Population.

We’ve identified design practices that explicitly recognize age-related performance changes and better serve the aging population on our roadways.

Gene Amparano, from our FHWA Resource Center and an expert on the issue of Aging Road users, will provide the overview of the Handbook.

This is practical information that’s being used at the state and local level.

For example, we’re providing resources to New Jersey to conduct a training workshop on roadway design for older drivers and pedestrians. The workshop will help state and local engineers understand how to improve roadway safety for older road users.

Even with these programs and activities underway, we recognize that there is more work to be done.

First and foremost, we know that sharing knowledge with and among our partners is critical, and so we fully intend to leverage the outcomes of this conference.

The five tracks that are being highlighted at this conference – including one on infrastructure and vehicles – will give everyone a lot of valuable information.

We also want to keep the momentum going after the conference is over. To that end, we’ll develop a Noteworthy Practices guide based on the information presented here over the next three days.

The work you do is meaningful and we want to capture it and share it across the nation.

And we’ll continue to work closely with our federal, state, local and non-profit partners to continue research and knowledge-sharing that support safe mobility for older road users.

On behalf of the USDOT, thank you for your dedication and commitment to this important issue.

Victor Mendez started a tradition at FHWA that I’m pleased to continue. It’s a tradition that’s especially relevant to this conference and to the points I tried to make about personal responsibility.

The tradition is to end every speech with a reminder to be responsible for your actions behind the wheel and – as transportation professionals – to set a good example for your friends, family and colleagues.

And so, in that spirit, I remind you to always buckle your seat belt, put away your cell phone when you’re driving, watch out for walkers, joggers and people riding bikes, and simply, drive safely.

I hope you enjoy the conference and remember that we all need to do our part!

Thank you!

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