Traffic Safety is a critical issue on reservations across the United States. It is recognized, but has not gained the importance it could or should hold based on the direct linkage to the ability to save lives, to reduce injuries and crashes that cause unimagined pain and suffering, and that can build safe communities. The Tribal communities our program has worked with have recognized this need, and have multiple programs that represent best cases and very positive actions to address many of the key aspects of tribal traffic safety. Each tribe has created some framework that begins to coordinate across the many departments and programs around traffic safety, generally through a Traffic Safety Committee, which we see as essential to maximize the impact of safety efforts.
Data-driven traffic safety planning is an extremely helpful tool to understand and guide actions that lead to success around traffic safety. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) under the age of 44 is unintentional injury due to motor vehicle crashes (CDC, 2015). In Washington State, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database reports that American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AIANs) have higher fatality rates than all other ethnic and minority groups (WA FARS data, 2010-2014). Given these disproportionate high fatality rates among AIANs, traffic safety on reservations is a priority in the Washington State Target Zero plan.
Starting with crash data offers specific identification of issues within each tribe and permits each tribe to make assessments and create action strategies for change. The 4 Es of WSTC’s Target Zero Traffic Safety Plan; Engineering, Enforcement, EMS, and Education along with Leadership can be used to help understand and set priorities for programs in all areas that emerge from understanding the specific problems of each tribe.
Quality data is imperative for informed decision-making and is in short supply across Indian County. Tribal leaders have acknowledged their data is underreported and that traffic fatality numbers are likely higher than what is reported in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Crash data reporting by all jurisdictions on and near reservations are inadequate and err towards significant under-reporting of crashes. In our previous research, we have found that tribes are either not accustomed to collecting data, are not sharing data, are just initiating the process, or are reporting data inconsistently.
The 2010-2014 FARS crash data identified that the major contributing factors to crashes are behavioral. Although engineering can help eliminate safety concerns and promote safer roads, pathways, and transportation issues, major changes need to occur within Native American Reservations and with individual drivers in order to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries.
The top contributing factors of reservation fatalities involve behavioral issues. Behavioral issues include alcohol and drug abuse, distracted driving, driving without seatbelts, patterns of driver education and experience, and driver perception of punishment or determent to the community by not following traffic codes. Another contributing factor is the effectiveness and impact of tribal codes on tribal members and the community.
The EWU Tribal Traffic Safety Program aims to support Tribal Traffic Safety Committees (TTSC) that identify and address all aspects of tribal traffic safety around the four E’s (education, enforcement, engineering, and EMS), plus the expanded model developed by EWU. Each tribe is encouraged to develop a TTSC, develop a strategic plan for safety, and apply data-driven processes to identify, examine alternatives, and take actions leading to tribal traffic safety.
Finally, we have found that there are funding sources, programs, and opportunities for action by tribes that are enhanced by using data-driven planning and the Target Zero Model. These act as the basis for solutions in the form of road improvement projects under engineering, support for a wide range of enforcement and EMS activities, and opportunities for initiatives in education.
The Washington Traffic Safety Commission itself, as part of its work with tribes and Target Zero planning, is a major resource for innovation and action among tribes, and for overcoming identified problems and issues around all four Es plus leadership. We encourage all tribes from our project to build on their data-driven traffic safety documents, resources, plans, and committee to apply for WTSC grants this year. WTSC also allows multiple applications, so Tribes can consider different types of funding for projects. We have used our ‘EWU Model’ based on the four E’s of traffic safety and Leadership to provide an overview of the types of grants your tribe could consider.