Standing side by side with many state DOT heads, US DOT Secretary Ray La Hood and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced a new public safety campaign to encourage less driving, lower speeds, and encourage more cycling and walking to meet the nation’s transportation needs.
“For too long, the assumption has been that the negative impacts of auto travel are just the price we must pay for modern life”, said Secretary LaHood, “Well, no longer. It’s time to build a people-centered transportation system. We have the tools and policies to make change now, and we need to get to work.” LaHood urged DOTs and municipalities to begin immediately by reducing speed limits on residential streets, narrowing streets, and installing protected cycling facilities. LaHood also pointed to the benefits of the change, citing the continuing decline in vehicle travel nationwide. “Cities, counties and states no longer need to pour money into new infrastructure that will serve fewer and fewer drivers while their existing roads crumble. We’ll be doing our pocketbooks and the climate a favor while we reactivate our streets and improve public health”.
“The use of motor vehicles, like smoking, heart disease and other public health threats, pose a grave risk to our children, friends and neighbors,” said Secretary Sebelius. Sebelius cited motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among US children, and pointed to the link between childhood asthma and heavily congested streets in announcing that she would make the reduction in use of the automobile a top priority for her agency. “Just as we pulled out all the stops to address smoking, especially among teens, we will make it a priority to not only build a new transportation system, but engage the public in a broad dialog about the automobile’s impact on our health and the health of our planet”.
LaHood and Sebelius used the press conference to release a proposed set of actions their agencies and Congress can take to advance the health initiative. Congress could withhold federal transportation funds until states develop and implement aggressive vehicle miles traveled reduction goals and public engagement campaigns highlighting the health impacts of automobile use. State DOTs and legislatures could also levy a health excise fee on auto purchases to fund cycling, walking and transit infrastructure. As the nation’s largest insurer, HHS would revise underwriting standards to reflect the risks of high-mileage communities, and pair medical treatment with interventions to introduce customers and communities to non-auto transportation. Tax benefits for automobile parking would be rescinded, and the NHTSA would move immediately to require automakers to install ignition interlocks on all new vehicles.