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With the recent inauguration, Joe Biden became the first president in U.S. history to have lost a spouse and a child to the country’s traffic violence epidemic. Though Obama and Clinton both also lost their fathers in car accidents, as StreetsBlog USA noted, “Biden may have been uniquely influenced by the experience of grieving his wife and daughter just as he embarked on what would become a decades-long political career.”
In 1972, President Biden had just been elected a senator to Delaware and was waiting to take office when his first wife, 30-year-old Neilia Biden, and his eldest daughter, 1-year-old Naomi, were both killed by the driver of a tractor-trailer. The couple’s two sons, Hunter and Beau, though injured, ultimately survived the same crash. Because of this, Biden would go on to take a 90-minute Amtrak journey home from Washington to put his boys to bed each night. And he would do so for the next 36 years, earning him the nickname Amtrak Joe.
As StreetsBlog USA, he also earned a reputation as a rare politician who appreciated the inherent dangers of car dependency, choosing a mode that was far more likely to get him home to his family safely.
So far, President Biden has not indicated how and if he will reform transportation in the country to prevent any other families from enduring a similar tragedy. He has, however, focused on considering a mix of big investment in public transportation in electric cars that’s very similar to the Democrats’ platform of curbing climate change without aggressively reducing car dependency.
A couple cabinet picks that do align with the platform though, is former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is poised to become Secretary of Transportation, who was notably the only presidential hopeful to propose a national Vision Zero goal to end traffic violence deaths in the U.S. Also, Biden’s for Deputy Secretary of the department, former New York DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, was even heralded by Biden himself for her leadership in implementing “the nation’s first Vision Zero program, taking a multi-disciplinary approach to eliminating traffic fatalities and injuries.”
Advocates have largely received the news of both appointments as a hopeful sign that the Biden administration at large would take the traffic violence epidemic seriously. Hopefully they will take unprecedented federal action to reverse it. As Biden enters office, pedestrian deaths are 51% higher than the last time he held office in the White House as Vice President in 2009.
In Los Angeles county, car crashes are the fourth leading cause of premature death, ahead of homicides, strokes, and lung cancer. And out of the 200 most populous cities in the U.S., Allstate ranked LA as the 195th safest city to drive in. In the past 10 years, overall traffic deaths in Los Angeles have risen 32%. As of May 2020, 86 people were killed in traffic collisions in the city.
As StreetsBlog USA perfectly concludes on their article, President Biden has the opportunity to leave an extraordinary legacy and become “the first President in U.S. history to take visionary action to end the most enduring public health crisis of the modern era.”