Weakened New Mexico Traffic Death Goals

Summary

Despite public criticism, the State Highway and Transportation Department in 1999 refused to adopt traffic safety goals as ambitious as those chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation and its Partners in Progress including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Advocates for Highway Safety, the National Commission Against Drunk Driving, and the National Association of Governor's Highway Safety Representatives.  In 2000 the Department went further, weakening its goals of 1999 and moving still further from the national goals.  The following graphs tell the story regarding the Revised (SHTD, 2000), Prior (SHTD, 1999) , and New Mexico equivalent of national goals:

Visually you can see in that graph that only the National goals extend the pattern of progress equivalent to that already achieved in past years.  The Department's revised goals represent nearly no reductions in crash deaths from the level that prevailed prior to Gary Johnson's arrival in office.  All told, the goals call for 286 more people to die through 2005 than the Department called for last year.  The Department goals call for 344 more deaths through 2005 than the national goals would produce.

The same story applies for alcohol-related crash deaths.  Despite unprecedented resources for fighting DWI, the Department calls for reduced progress in the next few years compared to past progress.  All told, the Department calls for 118 more persons to die in alcohol-related crashes through 2005 compared to their plan last year.  It calls for 184 more deaths than the National goals would produce.

The difference between total crash deaths and alcohol-related crash deaths is, of course, not-alcohol-related crash deaths.  This category of crash death in New Mexico rose enormously with the increase in speed limits nationally in 1995 and in New Mexico in 1996.  Subtracting the Department's goal figures produces the following graph, which shows the Department's revised goals call for no progress in this category through 2005, even though higher safety belt usage, more prevalence of vehicles safer in crashes, and speed enforcement programs (if successful) should reduce crash deaths in this category. 

 

Background

Under terms of federal requirements (23 CFR 1200.10) New Mexico qualifies for federal highway assistance by submitting an annual highway safety performance plan specifying the state's goals for making our roads safer and an highway safety plan saying how it will be done.  The State Highway and Transportation Department's Traffic Safety Bureau is responsible for meeting this requirement and investing these federal funds (and much other safety funding) toward the state's goals.  It prepares and submits each year these two documents in combined form, as its annual Highway Safety and Performance Plans (see, for example, their plan for 2001-2005).

In September 2000 the Bureau revealed its Goals for New Mexico traffic safety for 2001-2005, with the key goals quoted verbatim as:

Reduce New Mexico’s traffic fatality rate from 26.6 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 24.4 in 2001 and 22 in 2005.

Reduce alcohol-involved traffic fatalities from 43 percent of total traffic fatalities in 1999 to 42 percent in 2000; and 40 percent in 2005.

Though not mentioned in the text, these goals were substantially less ambitious than the comparable Goals for New Mexico traffic safety for 2000-2005 set by the Bureau in August, 1999, quoted verbatim as:

Reduce New Mexico’s traffic fatality rate from 24.4 per 100,000 population in 1998 to 23 in 1999; 22 in 2000; and 20 in 2005.

Reduce alcohol-involved traffic fatalities from 44 percent of total traffic fatalities in 1998 to 43 percent in 1999; 42 percent in 2000; and 40 percent in 2005.

These changes seem rather abstract until you reflect that the 11% rise for 2000 means 11% more people dead on New Mexico roads.  Let's compare what those goals mean in terms of deaths on our highways.  Let's state the goals more straightforwardly, in a table:

SHTD NM Traffic Death Goals per 100,000 Population

Year Revised Goal (2001-2005) Prior Goal (2000-2005)
1999 26.6 23.0
2000 22.0
2001 24.4
2005 22.0 20.0

The Department has defined these goals in a confusing way, with a change of reference years and intervening years not referenced.  Let's fill the gaps by straight-line interpolation:

SHTD NM Traffic Death Goals per 100,000 Population

Year Revised Goal (2001-2005) Prior Goal (2000-2005)
1999 26.6 23.0
2000 25.5 22.0
2001 24.4 21.8
2002 23.8 21.4
2003 23.2 20.8
2004 22.6 20.4
2005 22.0 20.0

The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico prepares New Mexico population estimates and population projections for the U.S. Census Bureau, projecting the following best-available populations for New Mexico:

NM State Resident Population

Year Population Source
1999 1,739,844 3/9/2000 Estimate
2005 1,956,725 4/1997 Projection

We can use straight-line interpolation of these figures to get rough projections of populations by year.  Using the rates above, we can then get the Highway Department's death goals, by simple multiplication:

SHTD NM Traffic Death Goals

Year Projected Population Revised Goal (2001-2005) Deaths Prior Goal (2000-2005) Deaths
1999 1,739,844 460* 460*
2000 1,775,993 451 391
2001 1,812,141 442 391
2002 1,848,290 440 392
2003 1,884,438 437 392
2004 1,920,587 434 392
2005 1,956,735 430 391
Total - 3,095 2,809

* Actual 1999 NM traffic deaths, according to the UNM Division of Government Research

The Department's alcohol-related crash death goals for each year can be derived from these counts by multiplying by the Department's alcohol percentage goals stated above:

SHTD Alcohol-Related Traffic Death Goals

Year Percentage Goal Revised Goal (2001-2005) A.R. Deaths Prior Goal (2000-2005) A.R. Deaths
1999 43% 192* 192*
2000 42% 190 164
2001 41.6% 184 163
2002 41.2% 181 161
2003 40.8% 178 160
2004 40.4% 175 158
2005 40% 172 157
Total - 1,273 1,155

* Actual 1999 NM alcohol-related traffic deaths, according to the UNM Division of Government Research

National Goals

The US Department of Transportation calls for substantial progress through 2008 at reducing crash deaths, expressed in the 1998 Strategic Plan of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Its goals were embraced by its Partners in Progress (including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Advocates for Highway Safety, the National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives, and the National Commission Against Drunk Driving) .  The Department and its Partners also have called for dramatic progress against DWI, expressed as reductions in alcohol-related crash deaths through 2005.  These goals can be summed up in the following table:

US Traffic Death Goals

Year Traffic Deaths Alcohol-Related Crash Deaths
1998 41,480 15,936
2005 11,000
2008 33,500

By straight-line interpolation we get the following goals for intervening years:

US Traffic Death Goals

Year Traffic Deaths Alcohol-Related Crash Deaths
1999 41,611* 15,786*
2000 39,210 14,333
2001 38,496 13,667
2002 37,783 13,000
2003 37,069 12,333
2004 36,355 11,667
2005 35,600 11,000

* Actual 1999 US alcohol-related traffic deaths, according to NHTSA

If New Mexico achieves year-to-year percentage reductions from its 1998 death tolls, we will have the following traffic crash death tolls each year (the Highway Department's goals are provided as well, for comparison):

SHTD and National NM Traffic Death Goals

Year National Goal for NM Deaths Revised Goal (2001-2005) Deaths Prior Goal (2000-2005) Deaths
1999 460* 460* 460*
2000 401 451 391
2001 394 442 391
2002 386 440 392
2003 379 437 392
2004 372 434 392
2005 364 430 391
Total 2,751 3,095 2,809

Similarly, for alcohol-related crash deaths:

SHTD and National NM Alcohol-Related Crash Death Goals

Year National Goal for NM A.R. Deaths Revised Goal (2001-2005) A.R. Deaths Prior Goal (2000-2005) A.R. Deaths
1999 192* 192* 192*
2000 169 190 164
2001 161 184 163
2002 153 181 161
2003 145 178 160
2004 138 175 158
2005 130 172 157
Total 1,089 1,273 1,155

* Actual 1999 NM alcohol-related traffic deaths, according to the UNM Division of Government Research

For comparison, the following table shows New Mexico crash deaths, alcohol-related crash deaths, and not-alcohol-related crash deaths for 1982 through 1999, according to the UNM Division of Government Research:

New Mexico Crash Deaths, 1982-1999

Year NM Crash Deaths NM Alc.-Related Crash Deaths NM Not Alc. Related Crash Deaths
1982 577 365 212
1983 531 350 181
1984 497 319 178
1985 535 299 236
1986 499 285 214
1987 568 339 229
1988 487 289 198
1989 538 296 242
1990 499 305 194
1991 469 261 208
1992 460 274 186
1993 432 248 184
1994 447 228 219
1995 485 231 254
1996 481 235 246
1997 484 212 272
1998 424 188 236
1999 460 192 268

Produced by the DWI Resource Center.  Last updated 19 November, 2000