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Speeches and Presentations

Distracted Driving Event; Traffic Fatality Data Release

Sophie Shulman, NHTSA Deputy Administrator

Monday, April 01, 2024 |

Good morning, and welcome to today’s kickoff for our annual distracted driving prevention campaign. I’m Sophie Shulman, the Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and I’m pleased to be here to share some announcements as we launch our campaign.

The first is what you see on the screen behind me – we are rebranding our distracted driving campaign to better reach those who still use their phones behind the wheel. U Drive, U Text, U Pay served us well for nine years, but our research shows people are continuing to use phones behind the wheel for more than just texting – they’re using apps and social media, and even watching and recording videos. All of these behaviors are dangerous and deadly, and we want everyone to know: Put the Phone Away or Pay. Pay can mean a ticket or points on your license, and it can also mean paying the ultimate price – a deadly crash that takes your life, or the life of someone else on the road. In fact, in a few minutes, we will hear from a father who lost his daughter due to a distracted driver. The data shows the clear dangers of diverting your attention away from the road. 

Today, we’re releasing a trove of new crash fatality data that sheds light on the state of traffic safety over the past few years.

We are pleased to share that traffic fatalities continue to decline, with the fourth quarter estimates of 2023 marking the seventh consecutive quarterly decline in deaths. Our new projections for traffic fatalities in 2023 show an estimated 40,990 people died in traffic crashes last year, a decrease of about 3.6 percent from 2022. In fact, they drove an additional 67.5 billion miles in 2023, or a 2.1 percent increase over 2022, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. At the same time, the estimated fatality rate for 2023 decreased to 1.26 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In addition to these 2023 estimates, we are releasing the 2022 annual traffic crash data.

This includes a look at distracted driving in 2022, and its impact on the safety of everyone on our roads. In 2022, 3,308 people lost their lives in crashes involving distracted drivers, and nearly 290,000 people were injured. Almost 20 percent of those killed in distracted driving related crashes were people outside the vehicle – pedestrians, cyclists, and others on the road. Sadly, distracted driving crashes and fatalities are likely underreported, as many drivers may not want to admit to being on their phone right before a crash. It’s also difficult for law enforcement to detect distraction during crash investigations. In addition to lives lost, our society bears a significant burden from distracted driving crashes, which cost us collectively 98 billion dollars in 2019 alone. The problem is large, so our high-visibility enforcement campaign focuses on keeping distracted drivers off our roads.

Starting today through next Monday, April 8, our $5 million national paid media campaign will reach drivers in both English and Spanish, using the new Put the Phone Away or Pay message. From April 4 to 8, law enforcement will be focused on preventing texting and distracted driving, and we are proud to stand together in prioritizing equity and fairness in these enforcement efforts. After all, fair and equitable enforcement combined with strong laws not only helps us change people’s attitudes about safety risks; they help us change behavior.

More than half of all states and D.C. have a primary hand-held cell phone ban for all drivers at all times, except during emergencies. And almost every state, plus D.C., bans texting behind the wheel.

We know that certain age groups have larger proportions of drivers who were distracted at the time of fatal crashes – drivers 15 to 34 years old and drivers 75 and older. And to help keep young drivers off their phones, 36 states and the District of Columbia also ban new drivers from using cellphones behind the wheel.

We all have the power to prevent distracted driving, which comes in many forms. When you’re behind the wheel, the most important thing is the task in front of you – not a text, call, post, picture, music, other passengers, or anything else that takes your mind and eyes off the road.

So please, Put the Phone Away. Or Pay.

Thank you very much to all of our speakers and thank you all for your time today. Stay safe.