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NHTSA Launches Put the Phone Away or Pay Campaign; Releases 2023 Fatality Early Estimates

Projections show a seventh consecutive quarter of decline in fatalities

| Washington, DC

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration kicked off its campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. The newly rebranded Put the Phone Away or Pay campaign reminds drivers of the deadly dangers and the legal consequences – including fines – of distracted driving. Together with Chief Robert McCullough of the Baltimore County, Maryland, Police Department, Alan Morales of Students Against Destructive Decisions, and Joel Feldman of, NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman previewed the new campaign assets at today’s campaign kickoff event.

The campaign launches as NHTSA released new 2022 distraction data and preliminary traffic fatality data for 2023. These latest numbers underscore the toll of being distracted behind the wheel. In 2022, 3,308 people were killed and an estimated additional 289,310 people were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers.

“Distracted driving is extremely dangerous,” NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman said. “Distraction comes in many forms, but it is also preventable. Our rebranded campaign reminds everyone to Put the Phone Away or Pay, because distracted driving can cost you in fines – or even cost your life or the life of someone else on the road.”

People who are walking, cycling or otherwise outside a vehicle are especially vulnerable to being in danger from distracted drivers. In 2022, 621 vulnerable road users were killed in distraction-affected traffic crashes. Despite overall declines, vulnerable road user fatality rates are increasing, and distracted driving is a contributing factor to the increase in fatalities. NHTSA’s final 2022 Fatality Analysis Reporting System traffic crash data and analysis are available online.

NHTSA’s high-visibility enforcement of state distracted driving laws takes place April 4-8 and targets drivers aged 18 to 34 who, according to NHTSA data, are more likely to die in distraction-affected crashes than any other age group. The Put the Phone Away or Pay campaign is supported by a $5 million national media buy in English and Spanish on television, radio, and digital platforms. Campaign ads run from April 1-8.

NHTSA also released its latest projections for traffic fatalities in 2023, estimating more miles driven and lower fatality rates compared to 2022. The agency estimates that 40,990 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2023, a decrease of about 3.6% as compared to 42,514 fatalities reported to have occurred in 2022. The fourth quarter of 2023 represents the seventh consecutive quarterly decline in fatalities beginning with the second quarter of 2022. The estimated fatality rate for 2023 decreased to 1.26 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from the reported rate of 1.33 per 100 million VMT in 2022. Estimates also show that VMT in 2023 increased by about 67.5 billion miles, a 2.1% increase over 2022.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation published its 2024 Progress Update, a departmental update two years after the release of the original NRSS on January 27, 2022. The Department-wide adoption of the safe system approach remains the foundation of the NRSS’ implementation and is pivotal to addressing the fatality crisis on our roads. The progress report provides an update on the Department’s efforts to address serious and fatal injuries on our roadways and details the Department’s accomplishments related to addressing the NRSS actions in 2023. The most significant actions in 2023 include:

  • Awarded $1.7 billion in funding to improve roadway safety at the local, regional, and tribal levels through the Safe Streets and Roads for All discretionary grant program. Over 1,000 communities received funding, representing close to 70% of all Americans.  
  • Accelerated the deployment of new vehicle safety technologies through rulemakings for automatic emergency braking, including for pedestrians, on all new passenger vehicles, as well as heavy vehicles such as commercial trucks. 
  • Initiated an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for impaired-driving prevention technology standards to inform requirements that will deter behaviors such as alcohol-impaired driving.   
  • Updated key road safety regulations such as the new edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and revised guidance to encourage states using federal-aid funds to use repaving and rehabilitation projects to improve safety for all road users.  
  • Expanded the use and support of the National Emergency Medical Services Information System by accepting data from all 50 states, two territories and the District of Columbia. 
  • More than 160 organizations have joined as Allies in Action of the NRSS, including 36 state transportation agencies and safety offices.

The progress report also identifies four new commitments to action under the NRSS in calendar year 2024 and beyond, including two actions focused on directly addressing distracted driving:

  • Revise distracted driving prevention campaign material to reflect the evolution of distracted dangers associated with handheld devices and use updated content during high-visibility enforcement activities.
  • Develop a distraction research roadmap, informed by diverse expertise and public comment, that could support future updates such as Visual-Manual Driver Distraction Guidelines for In-Vehicle Electronic Devices.

NHTSA 202-366-9550