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Companies pledge millions in fed effort to stem road deaths

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 50 businesses and nonprofits — including rideshare companies Uber and Lyft, industrial giant 3M and automaker Honda — are pledging millions of dollars in initiatives to stem a crisis in road fatalities under a new federal effort announced Friday.

It's part of the Department of Transportation's “Call to Action” campaign, which urges commitments from the private sector, trade groups and health and safety organizations to reduce serious traffic injuries and deaths.

Traffic fatalities are near historic highs after a surge of dangerous driving during the coronavirus pandemic.

The public-private effort, unveiled Friday as part of the department's multiyear strategy started last year to make roads safer, ranges from investments to improve school crosswalks to enhanced seat belt alerts in Uber vehicles and a partnership between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to promote proven injury prevention strategies, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told The Associated Press.

It comes on the heels of the award of 510 transportation grants this week totaling more than $800 million under the bipartisan infrastructure law to states and localities that, for the first time, focus on road safety such as by adding bike lanes, lighting, protected left turns and sidewalks.

After a record spike in 2021, the number of U.S. traffic deaths dipped slightly during the first nine months of 2022, but pedestrian and cyclist deaths continued to rise. More than 40,000 people are killed in road crashes a year.

“It's still a crisis,” Buttigieg said, stressing a need for a national change in mindset. “We’re looking at road deaths coming in year after year in a similar proportion to gun deaths. The problem is they’re so widespread and so common that I fear as a country we’ve gotten used to it and perhaps fallen into the mistaken sense they’re inevitable.”

“We can’t solve any of this on our own,” he added. “We also know there isn’t one piece that will get this all down. But if we add all this together it can be enormous.”

Road travelers will see an array of safety measures this year. Uber told the AP that it is donating $500,000 — its single biggest investment in its effort to reduce drunken driving — for free and discounted rides in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri and Texas as part of the “Decide to Ride” program run in tandem with MADD and Anheuser-Busch.

The world's largest ride-share company also said it was doubling the availability of its bike lane alerts this month from 71 cities to 144 for passengers exiting vehicles near cycling routes and providing a safety checklist for Uber Eats bicycle couriers. It also pledged to strengthen its seat belt alerts, such as by increasing their frequency or adding an audio message along with pop-up messages urging riders to “buckle up.”

“We were thinking about how we could make an impact more broadly — how we can get people to start making better choices,” said Kristin Smith, head of Uber's road safety policy. “We know it's going to take a broad coalition of people to be tackling the crisis on U.S. roadways right now.”

Uber's investment comes along with separate commitments from Lyft, the second-largest rideshare company, which has partnered with the Governors Highway Safety Association in recent years to award tens of thousands of dollars in state grants to help reduce impaired driving and curtail speeding.

3M, the maker of Post-it Notes, industrial coatings and ceramics, told the AP it was continuing its partnership with state transportation agencies to identify the best technology to make road signs and lane markings more visible and reflective.

It's already pledged to improve 100 school crossing zones and added to that a commitment of $250,000 this year for a new transportation equity initiative that will fund half a dozen major projects in underserved areas. The company cited as an example its partnership with nonprofit groups to help build out Providence, Rhode Island's, Hope Street Urban Trail last year, featuring new bike and pedestrian lanes connecting the neighborhood to schools and the commercial district.

Dan Chen, president of 3M's Transportation Safety Division, praised the federal government's call for action as the “right approach” that will allow companies like 3M to work in sync with policymakers and other stakeholders “to make roads safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.”

Other businesses and groups joining the effort include American Honda Motor Co., which pledged continuing investments totaling $2 million to improve teen driver safety; UPS, which will install automatic emergency braking on its newer big delivery vehicles; and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group, which will step up its push for industry adoption of safety technologies such as auto high beam.

The Transportation Department said it was issuing an open call for pledges, and more companies were expected to join in the coming weeks.

Buttigieg, noting the need for a sustained, multiyear effort to substantially reduce traffic fatalities, emphasized the opportunities as well with President Joe Biden's five-year $1 trillion infrastructure law and said much more work remained to rebuild public works and improve people's livelihoods.

“I definitely have four years’ worth of items and then some,” he said, speaking of his job as transportation secretary.