The “Our American States” podcast—produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures—is where you can hear compelling conversations that tell the story of America’s state legislatures, the people in them, the politics that compel them, and the important work of democracy.
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"Our American States" has hosted several conversations on transportation and traffic safety topics, including drug and alcohol-impaired driving, school bus safety, distracted driving and transportation accessibility. Find all the transportation-related podcasts here.
Traffic fatalities have been on a disturbing upward trend for a couple of years, largely coinciding with the pandemic. In 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. That was the largest number of fatalities since 2005 and the largest year-over-year percentage increase since NHTSA instituted its present system for recording fatalities in 1975.
Ron Thaniel, the director of Governmental and External Affairs for NHTSA, is the guest on this podcast. He talked about what NHTSA is doing to combat this surge of traffic fatalities, including working with states and legislatures, which are responsible for traffic laws. In 2020, legislatures saw the introduction of more than 1,400 bills related to traffic safety.
Traffic safety is an issue of critical concern to state leaders, especially after a year that saw a sharp increase in traffic deaths.
On this podcast to address the issue is Steven Cliff, the acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA. Cliff spent several years in a variety of roles at the California Air Resources Board and previously worked as a research professor at the University of California at Davis. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry. Cliff discussed how NHTSA and the states can work together on traffic safety issues, the increase in traffic fatalities during the pandemic, ongoing efforts to combat impaired driving and much more.
The focus of this podcast is transportation safety and the type of legislation states have enacted to address concerns in that area.
Our guests are two NCSL staffers, Doug Shinkle, who directs the Transportation Program, and Samantha Bloch, an NCSL transportation and traffic safety policy expert.
We discussed a range of topics—school bus safety, hand-held devices, alcohol and drug-impaired driving. I also asked them to share their thoughts on how the COVID-19 pandemic might change some aspects of transportation and how states may respond.
Determining if a driver has too much alcohol in his or her system is now easily measured. But with more states approving the sale and use of recreational marijuana, knowing whether a driver is impaired with that drug—or other substances—is much more difficult to prove scientifically. In this episode, we explore actions states are taking to address this complex issue. Our guests are:
- Robert Ritter, director of the Office of Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- Representative Jonathan Singer (D-Colo.), who successfully guided legislation through his state legislature on this issue soon after Colorado became the first to approve recreational marijuana.
- Transcription of Episode 73
Since the relatively recent invention of texting, drivers have been tempted to check their phones. And pretty much at the same time, states have been looking at ways to temper that urge.
There are a number of challenges to effectively enforce distracted driving laws. Drivers find loopholes that give motorists a number of plausible excuses for holding or manipulating a mobile device. And no state or locality can afford a patrol to watch every driver on every road.
Still, an estimated 40,000 people die each year in traffic crashes. Our guests will provide the statistics and tell us what states are doing to drive that number down. And we’ll look at a program in Tennessee that literally has drivers and the media talking. Our guests are:
- Liza Lemaster-Sandback, highway safety specialist, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- Lieutenant Bill Miller, public Information officer, Tennessee Highway Patrol
- Transcription of Episode 41
On this issue of “Our American States,” we’ll take a look at how ride-hailing services are having an effect on people with disabilities and older adults. Historically, the Americans with Disabilities Act has required taxi services to make accommodations for people with disabilities to ensure equal access to transportation services. This includes, for example, requirements that taxi companies have a certain number of wheelchair accessible vehicles, and allow service dogs to ride for free.
Our guests say the explosive growth of ride-hailing services has had unintended consequences, such as a decrease in taxi services, a lack of training for contracted drivers and fewer wheelchair accessible vehicles available. In addition, apps do not have disability-friendly features. On the plus side though, it has opened up employment opportunities for older adults.
This episode features interviews with:
- Carol Tyson, government affairs liaison, Disability Rights Education and Defense Funds
- Jana Lynott, senior strategic policy adviser, AARP Public Policy Institute’s Livable Communities team
- Transcription of Episode 37
Each day, a half million school buses are on the road transporting students. The safety record is impressive. The design of school buses, known in the field as “compartmentalization,” has limited fatalities each year. However, experts have been looking at adding seat belts on school buses to increase safety.
Our guests are intimately involved in the issue.
- Kris Poland is a senior biomechanical engineer in the National Transportation Safety Board’s and describes her agency’s investigations of crashes and the development of federal policy to maintain and improve the safety record of school buses. She explains what they’ve learned about seat belts on buses and how they continue to learn from each crash episode.
- Tennessee Representative JoAnne Favors, who last November had a tragic school bus crash in her district that resulted in six students losing their lives. The incident prompted her to push for seat belts on state school buses. While the effort stopped short of passage, she feels the legislature is close to an agreement and offers advice to colleagues on what to look for sponsoring similar legislation.
- Transcription of Episode 19
- School Bus Safety Resources