Even though the session title was “Unexpected Allies in Advancing Public Health and Transportation,” there’s been a long, close relationship between transportation and public health.

Bella Dinh-Zarr, the session moderator and vice chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that history goes back as far as 1872, the year APHA was founded. Back then an outbreak of equine encephalitis was paralyzing horses nationwide, creating both a transportation crisis as well as a health and infectious disease dilemma.

“Although we call this unexpected allies, public health and transportation have been intertwined probably as long as we can remember,” she told Annual Meeting attendees.

Still, the panelists for the session, who represented the Denver area’s public transit system, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences and the ride-hailing company Uber, all talked about the new and exciting ways public health and transportation are being linked.

“This is a terrific panel of people you might not normally see in the same room,” said Dinh-Zarr, an APHA member.

Each speaker highlighted how their work crosses disciplines and, like so much public health work, relies strongly on both traditional and non-traditional partnerships. For example, Bernardo Kleiner said he and his colleagues at the Transportation Research Board are trying to work more closely with the National Academy of Sciences health and medicine division “given the obvious overlaps.” Dinh-Zarr chaired the NTSB’s first-ever Pedestrian Safety Forum last summer that brought together academic researchers, public transportation officials, urban planners and more to delve into the issue.

“We’re really interested in opportunities to work together to enhance safety,” said Heather Rothenberg, who heads the Trust and Safety research team at Uber. For instance, the company partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapters in 25 cities to offer safe rides home on July 4. Their other safety efforts include monitoring their drivers for harsh braking and acceleration, and sending reminders to drivers to take breaks to avoid fatigue.

Preventing deadly motor vehicles crashes was one of the “winnable battles” CDC Director Tom Frieden identified when he took the reins of the agency in 2009. About 90 people die daily in such crashes in the United States, said Grant Baldwin, director of the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. In fact, crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans 30 and younger, and more than 610,000 Americans have died in crashes since 2000.

The agency’s vision when it comes to transportation safety is to keep people safe on the road — every day.

“We’re really about the human behavior side of the equation,” Baldwin said, underscoring the two big threats of impaired driving and lack of safety belt use. Some recent CDC partnerships on the issue include the “Road to Zero” campaign with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Safety Council and a coalition of safety advocates that has a goal of zero road deaths by the year 2030.

The strengthening of the transportation-public health link is heartening to those working to improve both. When Kleiner first decided to work in the public health field and focus on transportation, he said he was often corrected by people during interviews who said, “It’s not public health, it’s public safety.”

“I think at the time, it had more to do with territory and funding,” he told session attendees. “I’m glad it’s been pretty much universally recognized as the public health crisis that it is.”