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Why we should avoid using the word ‘accident’ for traffic collisions

VIEWPOINT

Accidents are unfortunate events that happen outside our control. They are events that may have unrecognized or unaddressed risks contributing to their cause.

In other words, when we call a traffic collision an “accident” it implies that it was unexpected and there was nothing we could have done to prevent it. This idea goes against the main mantra of the Vision Zero Maui initiative. Traffic collisions that cause injuries and fatalities are preventable with proper roadway design, infrastructure and education. It is more appropriate to call them traffic “collisions” or “crashes.” 

The Maui Lani Roundabout is a good example of an initiative that is in line with the goals of Vision Zero Maui. Studies from the Federal Highway Administration show that roundabouts reduce fatalities by 90 percent, since drivers need to slow down to navigate the intersection. That data alone support the determination to complete the project, which is now open to the public. 

Led by the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the Vision Zero Maui program is part of a nationwide movement that calls for safer roads for communities. The goal is to have zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by 2040 — and this can only be accomplished with commitment and collaboration from all levels of government and the community.

Maui MPO is in the early phase of community outreach to develop the Vision Zero Maui Action plan, and we’ve already had some landmark successes. Mayor Michael Victorino’s October proclamation directed the formation of a Vision Zero Advisory Group to guide creation of an action plan. The group includes representatives from the mayor’s and prosecutor’s office; public works, planning, police and fire departments; and from the state transportation and health departments. Also with a seat at the table are representatives from the Healthy Eating, Active Living Coalition (HEAL), Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Maui Bicycling League and the American Association of Retired Persons.

Policy plays a major role in achieving the goals of Vision Zero. To address the 23 traffic fatalities last year, the Maui Police Department began to tow vehicles of drivers arrested for driving under the influence. Thanks to legislation from Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, the DUI tow bill helps keep drunken drivers off our roads. The initiative has already prevented further collisions, therefore saving lives. 

The important concept of safe road design came up during a Vision Zero Maui virtual town hall last month. State Transportation Department Deputy Director Ed Sniffen explained how road design is changing to prioritize livability in neighborhoods. Good design can get drivers to slow down, especially in residential areas, by narrowing vehicle travel lanes and installing more visible pedestrian crosswalks. In this new mindset, vehicle speed and road capacity become secondary to safety.

Roads are no longer just for vehicles and should be designed to consider other modes of transportation such as biking, walking and wheeling. This shift in perspective may be a bit uncomfortable for drivers at first, but with proper infrastructure to accommodate all road users, we will get closer to our goal of achieving Vision Zero.

With funding support from the state Department of Health, Maui MPO has partnered with the county and HEAL on an upcoming Complete Streets Quick Build project to paint artistic designs at an intersection in Kahului. This effort will build on last year’s successful project at the intersection of Onehe’e and Uhu Streets where volunteers painted bulb-outs that make it safer to cross the street. 

This new round of bringing art to our streets calls for interested artists to apply. The selected artist will receive $5,000 and will have a chance to work with a team of engineers, planners and public safety experts to gather community input and implement the selected design. Those interested may get more details at mauimpo.org and apply by Aug. 21. 

Finally, all the initiatives under Maui MPO strongly rely on public input, which is why it is important to be involved. Engagement is convenient and comes in many forms. A web map survey is on the Vision Zero Maui webpage, where you can drop pins on problematic locations on the island’s roadways. We are on social media @mauimpo and you can sign up for the newsletter on the website to be the first to receive important updates.

Despite the pandemic, our work to keep you updated on the latest transportation programs on Maui doesn’t stop. We will continue to advocate for safer roads with Vision Zero Maui, because really, the only acceptable number of traffic fatalities and serious injuries is zero. 

* Lauren Armstrong is the executive director of Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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