The U.S. Department of Transportation will announce a five-step program Thursday to reduce an unexpected spike in traffic deaths during the pandemic with a goal of eliminating them in the future.
The program, called the National Roadway Safety Strategy, marks a major shift in the department’s approach by recognizing that drivers make mistakes and will supplement educational efforts with safer roadway designs, vehicle technology improvements and better care for accident victims. Department officials briefed the news media Wednesday on the strategy that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to announce in Washington, D.C., at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
Mr. Buttigieg announced in October his department would spend the rest of the year developing a strategy to reduce traffic deaths after estimates through the second quarter of 2021 showed the highest percentage increase since the Fatality Analysis Reporting System began in 1975. An estimated 20,160 died in the first half of 2021, an 18.4% increase over the previous year, and the fatality rate increased to 1.34 fatalities per 100 million miles driven from 1.28.
That continued a trend that began with the start of the pandemic in early 2020 when reduced traffic apparently led some drivers to increase their speed substantially, resulting in more accidents. As the pandemic has worn on, officials say there also has been an increase in dangerous behavior such as impaired and distracted driving and reduced use of seat belts.
The higher speeds have resulted in more deaths and more serious injuries from unbelted drivers being thrown from vehicles.
The department said the 42-page strategy takes what it calls a “safe system approach” that tries to improve driver performance but builds in design and other safety improvements when drivers come up short.
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