Reversing the Trend: How Will U.S. Reduce, Eliminate Fatal Traffic Crashes


State transportation departments use message signs to encourage people to drive safely. In 2015, Utah began a “100 deadliest Days” effort to highlight how the summer driving season is traditionally the most dangerous.  Photo courtesy Utah DOT.

It was not much of a surprise to the people who work to make the nation’s transportation system safer when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released preliminary numbers showing traffic deaths had increased nearly 8 percent in 2015 to 35,200.


According to the official NHTSA news release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “We are analyzing the data to determine what factors contributed to the increase in fatalities and at the same time, we are aggressively testing new safety technologies, new ways to improve driver behavior, and new ways to analyze the data we have, as we work with the entire road safety community to take this challenge head-on.”

Indeed, it is going to take the “entire” community to reverse the trend. In the safety world, it is described as the four “E’s” – engineering, enforcement, education and emergency response. Taken together, the four “E’s” is a fairly holistic approach until you consider one very important group is missing.


Sure, drivers are the target of the educational campaigns. And drivers are the ones for whom the engineers designing cars and roads are trying to mitigate. The enforcement and emergency response efforts try to cope with drivers’ decisions. But in this entire comprehensive strategy, the drivers themselves are a group to be managed, not a partner to the solution.

In my humble opinion, drivers are the problem. They are the ones texting, playing Pokemon Go, eating, driving too fast, tailgating and making lane changes without signalling. Drivers engage in all manner of bad behaviors that are not tolerated in other areas of society.

So what can we do to reduce and eliminate the carnage? Most states and a large number of cities and towns throughout the country have embraced some form of a “Toward Zero Deaths” goal to eliminate traffic fatalities altogether. But short of eliminating drivers, is that even a realistic hope?

TransComm, AASHTO’s Subcommittee on Transportation Communications, will be taking up the question of what can be done to improve safety during its annual meeting September 12-14 in Charleston, WV.

Safety is most likely the one idea that is uniformly included in state DOTs mission and vision statements  throughout the country. TransComm’s membership will be tackling the question of how that idea is transferred from paper to reality throughout an organization. And, how can communications experts most significantly influence such a culture of safety.

I know I have done dumb things as a driver. As the father of a new, young driver I see the act of driving in an entirely different way. For me and my family – and the families of those 35,200 people killed on U.S. roads – the urgency to reverse the trend has never been greater.

3 thoughts on “Reversing the Trend: How Will U.S. Reduce, Eliminate Fatal Traffic Crashes

  1. Excellent framing of a frightening situation, Lloyd. I’m looking forward to our discussions at TransComm. We have to find ways to facilitate change in dangerous driving behaviors. We just have to.

  2. I agree, drivers are the problem. It’s how the federal government and states approach this deadly task of getting a license. Since we are all motorists at one time or another, we have all made mistakes or used bad judgement. One of the problems seems to be the states’ (in my case Florida) soft education of new drivers. New drivers can take DL testing or traffic school online, many times in the presence of their friends who help them “not learn” the rules and laws. When drivers receive citations, we as a society do not punish drivers with substantial sanctions, we allow adjudication to be withheld, and don’t fully sanction bad, dangerous, or deadly drivers. As an example, you would not allow this type of learning behavior to occur with a pilot of an aircraft. Our society has become too lax to punish and assign sanctions to dangerous drivers. I realize the federal government will not interfere with the states’ driver programs but, something has to give; and already has. Deadly, reckless, enraged drivers control our highways, there is not enough understaffed law enforcement out there to make a difference, and now we have added the technological invention of cell phone texting to create additional havok. Why don’t some federal and state agencies grab this problem by the horns and start changing our testing procedures and our laws? We need to start holding drivers accountable.

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