When you're talking to a hall filled with transportation professionals, it's tempting to talk about infrastructure—the importance of researching it, financing it, building it, and maintaining it. And when I addressed the TRB Chairman's Lunch earlier today, I made the case that, over the last four years, the Obama Administration has made unprecedented investments in our nation’s transportation system.
But, as I’ve said many times before, safety is DOT's number one priority. And as hard as we've worked to renew America's transportation infrastructure, we've worked even harder to ensure that everyone who uses that infrastructure can get where they're going as safely as possible.
So today at TRB, I also made a point of giving DOT’s safety efforts their due.
In 2011, the nation saw the lowest number of deaths on our nation’s highways since 1949 --that’s the lowest rate ever recorded. And that is due to three factors: safer vehicles, improved safety awareness among drivers, and stronger enforcement.
Over the last four years, we’ve worked with our safety partners to encourage people to buckle up, get drunk drivers off the road, and end our distracted driving epidemic. For the first time, we made distracted driving part of the national conversation, and we launched a national campaign to stop drivers from using hand-held cell phones and from texting behind the wheel.
Today, 39 states ban texting while driving; 10 states ban hand-held cell phone use.
Through law enforcement crackdowns and our annual Roadcheck inspection program, we've also worked hard to make sure America's commercial drivers operate safely and their vehicles are in safe working order. And with Safety Edge and other innovations, we're working to make sure the roads themselves offer every safety advantage available to travelers.
The nation's pipelines are also being made safer by DOT initiatives. With new safety standards, new rules, better emergency preparedness, and more pipeline inspectors, the nation can rest assured that we have wasted no time since President Obama signed the Pipeline Safety Act last January.
Finally, MAP-21--the new surface transportation law and a popular topic this year at TRB--is helping us keep America's transportation system safe.
For the first time, this law gives DOT oversight of transit safety--a long overdue step that will ensure the buses, subways, streetcars, and light rail systems Americans ride every day are the safest in the world. And overall, MAP-21 provides $2.6 billion for federal safety efforts.
The bottom line is that we have made great progress.
But we are far from finished. At DOT, we will continue to support solid research and innovation. And we will to continue to use federal investments to improve transportation safety.
President Lincoln once said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
At DOT, we are looking squarely at tomorrow. We see what needs to be done, and we are doing it.