Federal auto safety regulators have announced an ambitious new plan that they say could lead to “an America free of motor vehicle fatalities.”
“Americans deserve safer roads, and that starts with culture,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says on its website. “[We] are taking the initiative to create the future as opposed to just letting it happen. In our view, the only acceptable goal for roadway fatalities is zero.”
NHTSA envisions its strategic plan to eliminate traffic fatalities as a three-lane highway, which it calls “The Road Ahead.” Each lane is an aspect of auto safety that the agency will work on with the public and private sectors to develop life-saving technologies and courses of action.
The first aspect of the initiative calls for better proactive vehicle safety, which NHTSA says can happen by “working with automakers to make sure they are prioritizing safety and building vehicles without dangerous defects.”
That’s a tall order considering the auto industry’s Year of Recalls in 2014, marking the worst year for recalls in the history of the U.S. auto industry, worsened even further in 2015 and 2016 with the Takata airbag recall — the biggest, most expansive auto safety recall ever. Tens of millions of vehicles also have been affected by multiple safety recalls. Paired with low recall repair rates, this means that millions of Americans are driving vehicles that put them at a higher risk of serious injury or death.
In January 206, NHTSA announced a historic agreement with automakers to identify safety defects before they threaten the lives of motorists. The agency said its Road Ahead Program furthers these efforts by boosting its own efforts to identify and remedy issues earlier, improving recall completion rates, and better informing consumers.
Another “lane” in NHTSA’s plan calls for the development and implementation of more life-saving technology. The agency says that advanced vehicle safety technologies will revolutionize highway and road safety by preventing crashes from ever occurring.
“Automated and connected driving systems will pioneer a new world of vehicle operation and safety,” NHTSA says. “We have actively advanced safety technology research for decades and recently released the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, an unprecedented, proactive measure to safely test and deploy automated vehicles while encouraging innovation.”
The agency also issued a proposed rule on Connected Vehicles, which could transform roadway safety by allowing vehicles to “talk” to each other to avoid deadly crashes.
Finally, the third “lane” in NHTSA’s safety plan addresses human factors. Highway safety data shows that drunk, drugged, distracted, and drowsy driving account for 94 percent of fatal crashes.
“In 2016, we held six regional summits across the country to find new solutions to these factors,” NHTSA said. “We convened the Road to Zero Coalition to address behavioral safety challenges in a new, comprehensive way, and strengthen our partnerships with state highway safety offices and local law enforcement to combat these issues.”
According to NHTSA, traffic fatalities rose dramatically in in 2015, alone 35,092 lives were lost in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. – A jump of more than 7 percent over 2014 and the largest spike in traffic fatalities in 50 years.