by Leah Shahum
October 6, 2023
A growing number of public agencies – including offices representing mayors, city council members, state legislators, departments of transportation, public works and public health, and others – are getting involved in World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims (WDoR) which is on Sunday, November 19th this year. This annual event is an opportunity to REMEMBER those killed and injured in roadway crashes, SUPPORT valuable efforts to advance Vision Zero (safety for all), and ACT now for change.
Particularly in the U.S., where an alarming number of people are killed and injured in preventable traffic crashes, WDoR is a day to urge people to commit to safe streets for all. We know how to advance Vision Zero; now we need to rally government leaders, businesses, advocates and the traveling public to prioritize safety over speed.
The nation’s transportation leaders have signaled a shift in business-as-usual in their commitment to Vision Zero. Are your mayor, city council, state officials and business leaders hearing and acting on the message? Is your community shifting to prioritize Safe Streets for People? Consider WDoR an opportunity not only to speak publicly about the importance of roadway safety, but also to educate and build buy-in for change amongst stakeholders in your organization and community.
Read the comprehensive WDoR Organizers’ Toolkit here, which includes event planning ideas and how-to’s; promotion guidelines, templates, and samples; social media graphics; proclamation templates and more.
Following are specific recommendations for public agency staff and leadership engaged in WDoR:
Set & articulate clear goals for involvement in WDoR
- Be clear about why your agency is participating in WDoR. What specific Vision Zero, or roadway safety, goals are you setting? How can you honor those impacted by crashes and also improve on your agency’s – and other stakeholders – safety work.
- Be actionable in your goals, events and messaging. This is a chance to leverage media and public attention to advance safety, so make it count. Examples include announcing a meaningful, new safety commitment, policy, project, or progress report.
- Resist grandstanding. Show substantive action and real plans to address problems. Especially given the solemn, yet urgent, nature of WDoR, we encourage everyone to recognize that our communities – and leaders – can and should be doing more to prioritize roadway safety. Even if your leaders are making strong commitments, make sure they are backing these up with meaningful action and show humility at a time when traffic deaths are a leading cause of preventable deaths in our country.
Lift up partners working for roadway safety & people most impacted
- Build a “big tent” approach to advancing Vision Zero. Recognize, include and celebrate key partners in the community, advocacy organizations, other agencies, and elsewhere. Even if you all don’t always agree, this is a chance to come together on what connects you: a commitment to safety.
- Highlight the importance of Vision Zero advocates and advocacy. Again, if there’s tension, this is a time to value the tireless efforts of people outside of government working for safe streets. If your public agency is organizing a WDoR event, engage with advocates early in the planning process and invite them to help shape, promote and participate in the activities. Or, if advocates are the lead organizers on WDoR in your community, offer to collaborate and boost their efforts. Identify some areas of common ground to promote together (and agree to disagree where you must :).
- Honor the people in the community who have lost loved ones or been victims of crashes, themselves. These are the people most deeply impacted and should be central to your activities and messaging. Note that not everyone will feel comfortable participating or sharing their stories, but where they do, this is an opportunity to humanize the work your community is doing for safety. Take the time to meet with them and hear their stories and perspectives – before the day of the event – and be sensitive to their feelings.
Messaging about Vision Zero, Road Safety & World Day of Remembrance
- Weave in the fundamental themes of WDoR: Remember. Support. Act. Explain how your agency is engaging in these ways and, importantly, show compassion and urgency by committing to more actions to make progress for Vision Zero. And relate your messaging to this year’s U.S. WDoR theme, which is #SafeStreetsForPeople. This involves actions such as redesigning roads to be Complete Streets; lowering speed limits; promoting transit and active transportation; urging safer vehicle design and speed limiting technology; and allocating more funding towards transportation safety. With traffic deaths tragically high and increased federal funding and policy support for safety, now is the time for action at the local, regional and state levels, especially for those most impacted, including people in underserved communities and people walking and biking.
- Focus commitments and actions on upstream, systematic safety strategies – such as redesigning roadways to be Complete Streets for all users, including people walking and biking; and lowering speed limits to improve safety. Do not overemphasize downstream, individualized acts – such as vague, promotional campaigns urging the general public to “be safe” or threats of increased police actions, which can exacerbate inequities. It’s particularly important for public agencies to lift up the Safe System Approach, championed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which recognizes that people inevitably make some mistakes, so we need to invest in safe systems, such as safe road design, vehicles and policies, such as safe speeds. (Read more about USDOT’s explanation of a Safe System Approach and NEW guidance about messaging, especially important regarding pedestrian safety.)
- Be careful not to fall victim to using victim blaming language (learn how to change the narrative). When talking with the media, at public events or, really, any setting, WORDS MATTER. Too often, the default is passive language that (inadvertently) blames the people hit and injured in crashes…or portrays traffic deaths and injuries as “bad luck” or “accidents” due to “bad behavior.” While there may be elements of those things, the nation’s roadway safety crisis is most significantly a result of policy decisions that have led to prioritizing speed over safety. Though this brief about Vision Zero messaging is aimed primarily at journalists, its recommendations can be helpful to all. This research shares more background on how words matter. And this guide will help you to develop your recommendations for local media outlets for reporting crashes.
- Use the language of “crash” not “accident,” as the latter mistakenly removes agency to make change in the future through safety measures, so it inadvertently adds to the problem of complacency. Read more here.
Note that we do include general event-organizing or tips or recommended talking points here because those are well-covered in the Organizers’ Toolkit.