Why isn't safety and health at the forefront of decision-making?

This past week, my friend Stewart Williams, injury program manager at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, testified before a Texas Senate Committee on behalf of the effectiveness of red light cameras. Currently, 60 Texas cities (including Dallas) use red light cameras, which research has shown reduces crashes at intersections.  Additionally, law enforcement tout that thecameras change driver behavior and reduce crashes.In Austin, where Stewart lives, crashes at an intersection with red light cameras decreased by 57% in the five years following installation of the cameras.

Opponents of red light cameras contend they are only used to collect revenue. However, the Texas Department of Transportation website clearly states that red light cameras are used to improve intersection safety. Fines collected through red light camera violations are used to pay for the installation, operation, administration and maintenance of the photographic enforcement system. Police officials testifying at the hearing pointed out that some of the funds that cities receive in red-light camera revenue go to fund safety improvements, including improved crosswalks and better street lighting.

The Senate bill will not only outlaw future red light cameras, it will also eventually prohibit cities that already have cameras from using them. Despite the research showing effectiveness in reducing intersection crashes and substantial testimony from police officials from across the state, the bill passed the committee.

Shouldn’t the health and safety of Texas citizens and our visitors be the over-riding factor in decision-making?

National and international agencies and organizations, including the World Health Organization, American Public Health Association, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are encouraging cross-sector leaders to work together to develop a “health in all policies” approach to address prevention of health and safety issues. In a white paper I wrote for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in 2013 entitled, “North Texas Leaders Need to Consider Health and Safety in All Policies,” I said that for North Texas and the nation to achieve a safe, healthy and productive society, it is necessary for public and private institutions beyond just those in the public health and medical arenas to put health and safety at the center of decision-making because so many of their decisions significantly impact health. You can read the white paper at http://www.dallasfed.org/assets/documents/cd/healthy/wp_stidham.pdf.

The “health in all policies” movement continues to gain traction. The theme for the American Public Health Association (APHA) 143rd Annual Meeting & Exposition is “Health in all Policies.” The Public Health Institute, APHA, and California Department of Health created Health in All Policies: A Guide for State and Local Governments in response to growing interest in using collaborative approaches to improve population health by embedding health considerations into decision-making processes across a broad array of sectors. The Guide can be accessed at https://www.apha.org/topics-and-issues/healthy-communities/health-in-all-policies

Another “health and safety in all policies” approach is Vision Zero, which has been adopted by several cities nationwide, including Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco, and is being considered by many others (including Austin). The ultimate goal of Vision Zero is ending traffic deaths and serious injuries. The idea began in Sweden in the 1990s, where they adopted it as national policy. At the core of Vision Zero is the belief that deaths and injuries on city streets are preventable, and that multiple approaches are needed to address the problem, such as street designs that emphasize safety and data-driven enforcement efforts.

I’m looking forward to learning more about how other states and communities are successfully adopting a “health and safety in all policies” approach at this year’s APHA Annual Meeting & Exposition, which will be held in Chicago on October 31-November 4, 2015. It is my hope that all sectors of society will move beyond their “silo” thinking to consider the needs of all citizens. Texas communities, as well as communities across our nation, have opportunities to design safe and healthy environments by encouraging government, businesses, the media and others to make responsible decisions that will influence whether all citizens have the freedom to live to their full potential. Community leaders shouldn’t sacrifice long-term health and safety for short-term profits. Health and safety need to be considered in allpolicies, which will in turn provide a favorable outcome for all citizens, organizations, agencies and businesses.

Shelli Stephens-Stidham

17 April 2015



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