Steven Flint

Santa Fe, New Mexico

 

 

January 3, 2000

 

The Honorable Rodney Slater, Secretary

US Department of Transportation

400 Seventh Street SW

Washington, DC  20590

 

Dear Secretary Slater:

 

As a longtime traffic safety activist, I have been assisting New Mexico traffic safety organizations with long-term planning and goal-setting.  In the process, recently I have been reviewing your Department's strategic plans as they relate to traffic safety, and I have discovered that your Department goals do not provide for any meaningful decrease in future non-alcohol-related traffic crash deaths.  Non-alcohol-related crashes have yielded a constantly increasing proportion of US traffic deaths for many years, and I know that your agency and its partners can apply your research skills, technology, and  resources to do far better.  I write to encourage you to have these issues re-examined and your goals and approaches modified accordingly.

 

NHTSA's Strategic Plan 1998 states that:

 

NHTSA, working with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), established a goal of reducing highway fatalities and injuries 20 percent by the year 2008. This plan describes the strategies that NHTSA is undertaking to achieve this goal. These strategies, if successful, will reduce fatalities from 42,065 (1996) to about 33,500 (2008) and injuries from 3,511,000 (1996) to 2,809,000 (2008).

 

It further states that:

 

The agency’s goal is to reduce the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities to 11,000 by the year 2005.

 

Combining these goals with NHTSA's reported total and alcohol-related traffic death counts through 1998 produces the figures in Table 1 regarding traffic death goals by year, 1996-2005, using linear projections.  The rightmost column presents the number of traffic deaths not related to alcohol, calculated by subtracting the projected alcohol death counts that your goals imply from the projected totals.  It is this series that I would like your agency to re-consider:  your agency's long-term goals imply an increase in non-alcohol-related deaths and per-capita death rates compared to actual past levels.


Table 1: Projected Traffic Deaths

 

 

Year

 

Total

Deaths

 

Alcohol-

Related

Not Alcohol-Related

1996

42,065

17,218

24,847

1997

42,013

16,189

25,824

1998

41,480

15,936

25,544

1999

39,924

15,145

24,778

2000

39,210

14,454

24,756

2001

38,496

13,764

24,733

2002

37,783

13,073

24,710

2003

37,069

12,382

24,687

2004

36,355

11,691

24,664

2005

35,641

11,000

24,641

2006

34,928

 

 

2007

34,214

 

 

2008

33,500

 

 

 

I do not believe it is your Department's intention to plan for such limited progress in so important an area.  Your activities and plans call for many safety measures that should reduce in non-alcohol-related traffic deaths on a par with reductions observed and planned for alcohol-related deaths.  Occupant protection, vehicle improvements, highway improvement, speeding reduction, red light running prevention, and many other measures all should produce benefits for this other, rarely-considered category of crashes (which I shall refer to as NAR below).

 

To put the issue into long-term perspective, Table 2 presents actual and projected counts and death rates per 100,000 population, using NHTSA counts, your goals, and US Census Bureau Middle Series projections for population.  Figure 1 graphs the trends in counts.  As you will observe, the projected NAR death counts show none of the progress visible in the total and AR series, throughout this extended period.

 

Table 2:  Actual and Projected Traffic Death Counts and Rates

 

 

Year

 

Total

Deaths

 

ART

Deaths

 

NART

Deaths

 

Population

(thousands)

Traffic

Death

Rate

ART

Death Rate

NART

Death

Rate

1982

43,945

25,165

18,780

231,664

19.0

10.9

8.1

1983

42,589

23,646

18,943

233,792

18.2

10.1

8.1

1984

44,257

23,758

20,499

235,825

18.8

10.1

8.7

1985

43,825

22,716

21,109

237,924

18.4

9.5

8.9

1986

46,087

24,045

22,042

240,133

19.2

10.0

9.2

1987

46,390

23,641

22,749

242,289

19.1

9.8

9.4

1988

47,087

23,626

23,461

244,499

19.3

9.7

9.6

1989

45,582

22,404

23,178

246,819

18.5

9.1

9.4

1990

44,599

22,084

22,515

249,440

17.9

8.9

9.0

1991

41,508

19,887

21,621

252,124

16.5

7.9

8.6

1992

39,250

17,858

21,392

255,002

15.4

7.0

8.4

1993

40,150

17,473

22,677

257,753

15.6

6.8

8.8

1994

40,716

16,580

24,136

260,292

15.6

6.4

9.3

1995

41,817

17,247

24,570

262,761

15.9

6.6

9.4

1996

42,065

17,218

24,847

265,179

15.9

6.5

9.4

1997

42,013

16,189

25,824

267,636

15.7

6.0

9.6

1998

41,480

15,936

25,544

270,002

15.4

5.9

9.5

1999

39,924

15,145

24,778

272,330

14.7

5.6

9.1

2000

39,210

14,454

24,756

274,634

14.3

5.3

9.0

2001

38,496

13,764

24,733

276,918

13.9

5.0

8.9

2002

37,783

13,073

24,710

279,189

13.5

4.7

8.9

2003

37,069

12,382

24,687

281,452

13.2

4.4

8.8

2004

36,355

11,691

24,664

283,713

12.8

4.1

8.7

2005

35,641

11,000

24,641

285,981

12.5

3.8

8.6

 

Actual NAR deaths for 1998 are above their levels for every year from 1989-1996, suggesting that virtually all the progress in reducing total crash deaths in this decade has come only from progress in battling impaired driving.  NAR Death rates per capita under your Department's plan will be higher than the actual rates for 1991 and 1992.   Almost all the progress your Plan calls for through 2005 is also to come from impaired driving programs alone, according to the goals you have set.  I know our society can do better than that.

 

 

 

 


On the face of things, it appears that advances in occupant protection usage and effectiveness, vehicle safety, highway design, and traffic safety programs have only succeeded at keeping NAR deaths level throughout this decade, and the plan calls for no change in that.   Since your plan calls for a 20% reduction in total crash injuries, I hope that NAR deaths could decrease at least parallel to that injury progress, rather than the 1% decline your Plan calls for.  I would urge you all to reformulate your goals and programs to achieve that.

 

The extraordinary progress against impaired driving has been achieved through an organized program of thorough basic research on causes and countermeasures, formal efforts of advocacy, legislation, program dissemination, and evaluation to produce progress that applies findings about best efforts on the streets to benefit Americans.  Going back to the ASAP programs of the early 1970's, your Department has led the way toward implementing that model with terrific results, with counterparts internationally.  I urge you to include in your strategic plan comparable efforts of NAR death and injury.  Little is known about the role of speed and speeding in causing crashes and affecting injuries, for example.  Little attention has been given to geographic and demographic variations in crashes and crash injuries.  Effective organizations work with specific focus on reducing impaired driving crashes; organizations looking at this other, forgotten class of tragedies are fewer and far weaker.

 

I believe we can achieve progress in reducing traffic deaths and injuries in the next decade comparable to progress against impaired driving deaths in the past one.  As progress against DWI leaves us eventually approaching what may be a point of diminishing returns at reducing DWI death and injury, it is important that we turn to these other promising, unexplored areas.  State, national, and international traffic safety leaders and organizations should respond to this need, and your leadership can be the key component in bringing this about.  I would urge you to consider sponsoring conferences, research, publications, data collection, and partner initiatives toward these goals.  In the immediate term, I urge that you personally request briefing papers on the subject from NHTSA and special seminars on the subject at upcoming annual meetings of the Transportation Research Board and Lifesavers.  I am very eager to see what adjustments to your Department plans you initiate.

 

Thank you for your consideration!

 

Respectfully,

Steven Flint