David Strickland, Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
eventy years before the establishment of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and not long after the first vehicle made its way into the consumer marketplace, the United States witnessed its first automobile crash. In New York City, a motor vehicle collided with a bicyclist in 1896.
NHTSA was not around then, but the police were. Newspaper accounts of the crash reported that the driver of the “horseless” carriage was taken to the West 125th Street Station to be held, pending the outcome of the cyclist’s injuries. Since that first crash, law enforcement officers have remained at the forefront of the fight to improve traffic safety.
I am extremely grateful for your continued dedication to safety on U.S. roadways and your ongoing support of and involvement with many of our high-visibility enforcement campaigns. At NHTSA, we understand and value the risks you take every day—especially in traffic.
Safety is the top priority for the Department of Transportation, for NHTSA, and for the people we serve. Our latest numbers show that traffic fatalities have been steadily declining over the last five years since reaching a near-term peak in 2005, decreasing by about 26 percent from 2005 to 2011.
In 2010, overall traffic fatalities reached the lowest level since 1949. This translated to a 2.9 percent decrease in fatalities from 2009 to 2010. We can attribute this decline to a combination of factors that include high-visibility enforcement; safer vehicles; and better, more informed decisions by roadway users. Yet while such declines are encouraging, the tragic loss of 32,885 lives on U.S. roadways in 2010 is a terrible personal and economic toll that our society cannot afford.
Over the years, NHTSA has built a comprehensive array of programs that address the causes of highway deaths—both vehicle based and behavioral. A large part of our effort importantly includes the development and the enforcement of strong traffic safety laws. As the federal agency responsible for saving lives on U.S. roads and highways, we rely on you, the law enforcement community, as the linchpin of our efforts to change driver behavior—the dominant cause of crashes, injury, and death.
Even one traffic death is one too many, so we will continue to work on the programs we know make a difference, and we will continue to ask for your help in addressing impaired driving; seat belt usage; and, more recently, distracted driving and heatstroke. So what can you expect from us as we look toward the future?
NHTSA’s vehicle and behavioral safety programs are driven by crash data, which is also used to effectively allocate federal resources to best save lives. NHTSA’s data systems are the preeminent source of traffic safety information in the United States and are used by federal, state, and local entities to inform their roadway safety programs and funding. We will aggressively pursue the modernization and the consolidation of our data programs to enable NHTSA and state and local communities to make better traffic safety programming decisions.
As in previous years, pedestrian safety remains an area of focused interest for me. NHTSA has supported Pedestrian Safety Focus Cities and Focus States with the education and the enforcement components of their Pedestrian Safety Action Plans. These projects have drawn media attention, have heightened awareness, and have shown consistent decreases in pedestrian violations by both drivers and pedestrians. I want to build on our efforts in Florida; New Mexico; North Carolina; and Chicago, Illinois, to enhance law enforcement’s abilities to protect pedestrians. In cities where pedestrians are most at risk, we will conduct demonstration projects to help law enforcement agencies implement the Pedestrian Crosswalk Enforcement Guidelines as well as provide funding for more cities to implement the education and enforcement components of their pedestrian safety action plans.
We will continue our long-term focus on impaired driving and occupant protection through education and enforcement. For example, we will advance our antidistracted driving campaigns, introduce a new distracted driving grant program, and explore the feasibility of a combined emphasis safety campaign that leverages past successes in reducing impaired driving and increasing occupant protection. We also propose to increase our annual Click It or Ticket mobilization to twice per year in an effort to increase seat belt use and advance our Labor Day and December holiday season antidistracted driving campaigns by examining the effectiveness of a combined emphasis safety campaign.
I want to clearly thank the men and women of law enforcement. We are grateful for the long-standing relationship between law enforcement and NHTSA and the spirit of collaboration you always bring to the table.
We hear about lives lost on U.S. roadways every day in the news, but we never forget that these are not nameless, faceless people. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, and friends. Too many of us experience the personal pain of such a loss, and we at NHTSA are dedicated to reducing these preventable tragedies. ♦
Please cite as:
David Strickland, "NHTSA: Safety Is Our Top Priority," From the Administrator, The Police Chief 79 (July 2012): 16.