SS4A: Combatting America's Road Safety Epidemic

Matthew Robare
November 16, 2023

Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) is incentivizing and challenging authorities to rethink how they can curb America's road safety epidemic.

With fatalities on roadways soaring, the federal government established a $5 billion fund to invest in safe streets over the next five years. Its purpose: providing capital to cities, counties, states, and Tribes to promote reductions in injuries and deaths of pedestrians and cyclists.

The Safe Streets and Roads for All Program (SS4A) was funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and supports the Department of Transportation’s goal of reducing deaths on the roads to zero.

Dangerous Corridors

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that nearly 43,000 people died on the roads in 2021, an increase of over 10 percent from 2020 and the highest number since 2005.

The increases were across all categories — by sex, race, type of vehicle, and for passengers and drivers. That includes a growing number of pedestrians — almost 7,500 pedestrians were killed in 2021, which was the most in 40 years, according to the Governors’ Highway Safety Association.

According to Smart Growth America’s Dangerous By Design report, that number has increased every year since 2009 and the difference between 2020 and 2021 was the biggest single year increase in decades.

The increases in deaths did not fall equally, however: the Dangerous By Design report noted that Native American and African American pedestrians were more likely to die, as were people living in low income neighborhoods.

Deaths weren’t equally spread out, either: four of the worst metro areas were in Florida, including the deadliest in the country – Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach — along with another three in California. A further three metropolitan areas in Florida were in the top 20 for deaths and an additional one was in California.

Though one may be tempted to think that Florida and California’s high populations were responsible for their concentration, Texas only had two in the top 20 while Arizona had one. Populous states like Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan had zero combined.

Meanwhile, South Carolina had one metro in the top 10 and a further two in the top 20. Although the worst metros were concentrated in a few states, there is an unsightly trend for the entire country— every state and every region saw increases in both pedestrian deaths and general deaths involving motor vehicle crashes.    

Safety Action Plans

The centerpieces of the SS4A program are Safety Action Plans, according to the grant page. States and cities can apply for grants to “Develop or update a comprehensive action plan”, “Conduct planning, design and development activities in support for an Action Plan” and “Carry out projects and strategies identified in an action plan”.

Two types of grants are available, for planning and implementation.

Planning grants support things like studying how to improve an area’s safety, doing engagement and outreach and collecting data.

Implementation grants support things like building sidewalks, planning complete streets, traffic signals, and so on. 

Needs beyond road design

More and more attention is being paid to the design of streets and highways in preventing crashes, but one issue that remains unaddressed is the size of the vehicle.

As Streetsblog has reported, cars are getting more massive and bulkier.

The driver of a vehicle stopped at a crosswalk might not be able to see a pedestrian in front of them because of how high up they now sit. And even at low speeds, a collision with such a massive object can be serious or fatal, not to mention additional momentum, which means that much greater stopping distance is required.

The federal government could address this with a solution that could potentially be faster than implementing 5-to-10-year action plans, though it has yet to.

Large vehicles, like pick-up trucks and SUVs, are currently classified as “light trucks” and taxed at a lower rate than if they were considered heavy cars. As such, it encourages the automakers to make bigger and bigger vehicles.

Not only are heavy vehicles more difficult to control and harder to see out of, their extreme weight also causes more cumulative damage to roads and bridges, increasing maintenance costs and reducing road quality. They also take up more space, meaning fewer fit in a parking lot or roadway.

Ultimately, transportation becomes more inefficient and expensive as vehicles grow in size.

Innovating for safer streets

More than 50 years after “Unsafe At Any Speed”, automobiles in the United States remain deadly. 

This discourages walking and biking, which in turn increases vehicle miles traveled and emission outputs.

As a result, car-dependent regions can find themselves with higher rates of obesity and asthma, longer and more stressful commutes, a growing dependence on debt financing to maintain the car.

For years, transportation officials have worked to use laws and signs to manage driver behavior. It has shown that truly creating safer streets for all is a complex process that goes beyond sidewalks and speeds. It's one with no magic bullet, dependent upon a community's makeup.

With such a large monetary investment with SS4A, the federal government is showing a renewed commitment to all roadway users. The program will incentivize officials to leverage smart technologies and innovative methods to create a safer, more equitable infrastructure.

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