Traffic Safety Ombudsman (Advocate); Missing piece of Vision Zero Strategy

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before!

This morning, as I was waking up, I was thinking about a facebook post which I had read before I went to bed last night. It was a comment by the aunt of a truck crash victim who was thanking the mother of another truck crash victim for her many years of advocating for truck safety.

I was thinking, “There’s something wrong with that picture!” I’ve only been involved for three years in this battle for safer roads and already I am thoroughly aghast at the inhumane way safety issues are at the mercy of a political tug-of-war. Why on earth is it such a struggle to get this country to make saving lives a priority?! Year after year. After year.

The simple, obvious answer, of course, is that the political sway of industry lobby ($) has power far greater than the voice of those advocating for the victims, or, in this case, advocates trying to prevent people from becoming victims!

Supposedly, Congress did something about that back in 1966 with the National Traffic & Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Out of that has come DOT with its agencies like NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration). But somehow these, too are caught up in the throes of a battle, along with members of Congress, which hardly ever results in truly safer roads.

Well, as I was reflecting on this, suddenly an idea popped into my head.  Ombudsman! We need a Traffic Safety Ombudsman (or Ombuds)–an independent advocate to promote safety interests and defend travelers on the road.

I know why the idea popped into my head. Back in 1977, when I was newly-married and newly-graduated from college, I took a job as a VISTA Volunteer (meaning a Peace Corps-like volunteer who worked dirt-cheap in the U.S. for a non-profit). In this case, I worked as Director of a local chapter of a statewide patient advocacy organization for nursing home patients–Citizens for Better Care.

So I was basically a Patient Advocate at the local level–speaking up on behalf of nursing home patients. Family members could bring complaints to us and we would help to resolve the problem.

I was supported by a local board but also by the state office of CBC and by the Long Term Care Ombudsman at the State level (Doug Roberts at the time). And this is what, today, made me think: Ombudsman! Traffic Safety Ombudsman (or Advocate) ! Eureka!

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but this seems to me to be the perfect solution to the political tug-of-war over traffic safety: Create an Office of Traffic Safety Ombudsman to oversee traffic safety issues. Why? Because currently no one holds such an unadulterated role.

Before I got my day too far underway (I was getting ready to go help with another crash test of Aaron Kiefer’s side/rear guard prototype), I looked up the term ombudsman online and I discovered that it has a rich history. And one of the important features of the role is that it is established as an independent position. It is specifically designed to be immune to political pressure!

An ombudsman or public advocate is usually appointed by the government or by parliament, but with a significant degree of independence, who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or a violation of rights.

What are we waiting for?! This would be the perfect complement to our Vision Zero Petition requests for a National Vision Zero Goal, a White House Vision Zero Task Force, and a Vision Zero Executive Order. In fact, the Traffic Safety Ombuds(man) (Advocate) would fit in extremely well with this plan and, now that I think about it, is actually probably the missing piece of the puzzle for making Vision Zero a viable goal:

  1. The Traffic Safety Ombuds would develop, refine, and monitor the pursuit of a National Vision Zero Goal.
  2. The Traffic Safety Ombuds would oversee the White House Vision Zero Task Force.
  3. The Traffic Safety Ombuds would be the watchdog to make sure that the Vision Zero Executive Order and Vision Zero rulemaking were carried out appropriately on behalf of travelers on the road.

Makes sense to me. Because, really, who would be given the responsibility and authority to do so otherwise?! This could be the turning point. (Hallelujah Chorus).

Now all we have to do is get the ear of President Obama and persuade him to appoint this very important person.

Traffic Safety Ombuds


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