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'The Road to Zero' - A 30-year goal of zero traffic deaths

Zero traffic fatalities -- that's the ambitious goal set this past week by the Transportation Department. Zero, zip, nada.

That's a bold ambition, given that we have been seeing record numbers of deaths the past two years. Last year was the bloodiest year since 1966, and this year is expected to be 10 percent worse.

Ambitious goals can trigger extraordinary change

How does the government expect to reduce highway deaths from approximately 30,000 per year to nothing?

For now, the plan is a little sketchy on how this goal will be accomplished.

First, the government intends to heighten awareness and use of existing safety features:

· Buckling up for every trip, even to the corner store

· Making rumble strips ubiquitous on roadways.

· Public information campaigns targeting drunk and distracted driving, especially cell phone use.

· The promise of self-driving cars, which supposedly will eliminate 94 percent of crashes, which today are the result of human error.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx laid it on the line:

"Our vision is simple - zero fatalities on our roads. We know that setting the bar for safety to the highest possible standard requires commitment from everyone to think differently about safety- from drivers to industry, safety organizations and government at all levels."

The zero deaths idea did not originate in Washington. Sweden advanced that goal in 1997 in a program called Vision Zero. Several U.S. cities have also adopted the goal.

Officials compare the effort to the promise of President Kennedy in 1961 to "put a man on the moon." No one knew how that might be accomplished at the time, but the lofty goal it spurred serious thinking about solutions. By the Nixon administration, Neil Armstrong made his famous step onto the lunar surface.

Perhaps a goal this ambitious will have the same positive outcome.

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