New DOT Head Confirmed, U.S. Sees Largest Traffic Death Spike in YearsFeb 13, 2017
How Will the DOT Address Rising Traffic Fatalities?
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has a new leader, as Elaine Chao has been confirmed as the new Secretary of Transportation. Chao, who was formerly U.S. labor secretary and deputy transportation secretary, is taking over the DOT at a time when the nation is experiencing an alarming increase in traffic fatalities. The new DOT head is also coming in at a time when technology is a key question; the includes the role of apps in distracted driving, and the safety and regulation of self-driving cars.
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The United States Senate confirmed Chao as DOT head, voting 93 to 6. After her confirmation, Secretary Chao sent an email to staff stating that she "look(s) forward to working ... to ensure that the safety and efficiency of our country's transportation systems are second to none," according to The Hill.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 17,775 people died in a motor vehicle crash during the first half of 2016 compared to 16,100 during the first half of 2015. These figures represent a 10.4 percent increase from 2015 to 2016. NHTSA says the second quarter of 2016 represents the seventh consecutive quarter where traffic deaths have increased compared to same period the previous year.
NHTSA has also reported that 2015 had the largest annual percentage increase in traffic deaths in 50 years, since 1966. Over 35,000 people died in traffic-related events in 2015, representing a 7 percent increase. The spike in traffic deaths was attributed to increased driving, drunk driving, speeding and distracted driving.
To address the rise in traffic deaths, the government announced its "Road to Zero" coalition in October 2016. The initiative seeks to eliminate traffic deaths within the next 30 years. The DOT has allocated $1 million a year for the next three years to fund organizations focused on preventing traffic-related deaths. "Our vision is simple – zero fatalities on our roads," said then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, according to a DOT press release. "We know that setting the bar for safety to the highest possible standard requires commitment from everyone to think differently about safety– from drivers to industry, safety organizations and government at all levels."
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said "Every single death on our roadways is a tragedy," according to the release. "We can prevent them. Our drive toward zero deaths is more than just a worthy goal. It is the only acceptable goal."
The first steps of the Road to Zero Coalition focuses on methods shown to save to lives. This includes improving the use of seatbelts, installing rumble strips, truck safety, behavior change campaigns and data-driven enforcement. The initiative was announced by the NHTSA, Federal Highway Administration, and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in collaboration with the National Safety Council (NSC).
NHTSA Proposed Guidelines to Address Distracted Driving from Phones
Parker Waichman notes that NHTSA has announced voluntary guidelines to reduce distracted driving associated with the use of mobile and electronic devices. In late 2016, the agency proposed that device makers utilize pairing, where the device is synchronized with the vehicle's infotainment system. NHTSA also suggested a Driver Mode, in which phones adapt a simplified interface.
"NHTSA has long encouraged drivers to put down their phones and other devices, and just drive," said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind, according to a press release announcing the guidelines. "With driver distraction one of the factors behind the rise of traffic fatalities, we are committed to working with the industry to ensure that mobile devices are designed to keep drivers' eyes where they belong — on the road."
Any activity that diverts a driver' attention away from the road constitutes distracted driving. This include eating, drinking, talking on the phone, and other tasks. DOT states, however, that texting is "by far the most alarming distraction" because it involves a driver's visual and cognition focus.
Report Says Many States Need to Implement Traffic Safety Laws
The Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety issued a 2017 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws titled, "Have We Forgotten What Saves Lives?" The report, citing the rise in traffic deaths, highlights the need to pass traffic safety laws in states across the country. A total of 376 traffic laws are missing from states, according to the report.
"Too many states are still lacking too many safety laws and this is contributing to the problem. Advocates urges governors and state lawmakers to remember that state laws will save lives and spare families the loss of loved ones," said Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety President Jacqueline S. Gillan. "We know what needs to be done – enact state laws to require vehicle occupants to buckle up in every seating position, motorcyclists to always wear a helmet when riding, children to be seated in age appropriate child restraints, new teen drivers to gain necessary experience behind the wheel, and to address impaired and distracted driving."
The report states that traffic deaths have increased in every category, including: unbelted vehicle occupants (five percent), motorcyclists (eight percent), pedestrians (10 percent), teen drivers (10 percent), impaired and distracted drivers (three and nine percent) and children (six percent). States need to pass laws focusing on the use of seat belts for both front and rear passengers, motorcycle helmet laws, booster seat laws and laws related to Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL), the report said. The safety group also called for states to pass impaired driving laws and restrictions for texting and driving.
In 2015, 1,121 people died due to traffic-related incidents in New York State. A total of 13,503 people died over a ten-year period. According to the report, highway safety laws needed in New York include: primary enforcement seat belt law for rear passengers, stronger cell phone restriction (GDL), and age 18 for unrestricted license without DE exemption (GDL).
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