Speeches and Presentations

Law Enforcement Liaison Conference

Heidi R. King, Deputy Administrator of NHTSA

Monday, November 13, 2017 |

Thank you, Vernon. I also want to thank Harris Blackwood and GHSA, and Domingo Herraiz and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
I appreciate the work that went into bringing us all together for this important meeting.
I am here not just as the Acting NHTSA Administrator but also as someone who has personal experience in law enforcement and public safety.

  • California State Park Ranger
  • Emergency Dispatcher
  • Emergency Medical Technician

Entering public safety, we all experience the moment when we accept that we are responsible for the wellbeing of others.  
With experience in public safety and in policy analysis, I know the essential role law enforcement plays. You’re not only helping to protect our neighbors; you’re shaping attitudes toward traffic safety in your communities.
There is no profession more directly linked to society and how we treat one another than police officers. 
That is evident in how people choose to drive. 
Obeying the rules of the road and even how they act toward others on the road is strongly influenced by how they see others behaving and how they see law enforcement officers responding – or not responding – to violations. 
NHTSA’s research shows that when drivers see the laws being enforced they then recognize obeying the law as a social expectation.1 They see it as the way that good people behave.
When they see people breaking traffic laws — speeding, driving aggressively, and rolling through stop signs — and they don’t see enforcement action, they feel the opposite. If the laws aren’t being enforced, then they must not be important and violators are simply good people who are trying to save time and get about their day; they see dangerous driving as acceptable.
Reinforcing the perception that good people obey traffic laws requires active, visible traffic enforcement. It is all the more critical in light of recent traffic safety trends.
The timeliness and completeness of data from state and locals so that we can respond to risks more quickly is critical.
37,461: The sad fact is, that for all our progress, we lost 37,461 people to motor vehicle crashes in 2016. Fatalities spiked by 5.6 percent in 2016. In the prior year, we suffered an 8.4-percent increase.2

I don’t have to tell you about the statistics.  Because many of you, like me, have been engaged in rescue and you have comforted the family and friends at the scene of the crash.
We also know that 94 percent of all serious crashes are caused by dangerous choices, poor decisions and errors we make as drivers, including choosing to speed, drive drunk, or send a text from behind the wheel.
The ability to reverse those negative trends and improve safety compels us to questions how we can be more effective at  improving road safety.
Things that keep me up nights:  How do we develop improved protocols for identifying risk factors that might be under-reported, such as drugged driving and distracted driving?
We have heard from you that public support for our officers in the field is key – public support to explain why it is important to enforce the laws that are designed to protect us all from traffic risks.
Public support for law enforcement officers who are working to protect their communities is essential. I know from experience that it’s a tough but rewarding profession. 
To better support the work of police officers, and to learn from their experiences, NHTSA conducted a series of law enforcement listening sessions over the past year.
One thing we heard repeatedly was that drivers should be reminded that traffic enforcement improves community quality of life.
Everyone here knows that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young people. 
We know that active, visible law enforcement will protect people and save lives.
More Americans need to understand these facts. They need to know that every vehicle stop they see is about protecting them and their neighbors from harm.
That’s why NHTSA is working right now to develop public awareness messages that remind Americans why we need active enforcement. We expect to share those materials with you in the spring.
Supporting law enforcement is what the network is all about. It is our best tool for reaching enforcement professionals across the nation.
Working with law enforcement leaders, NHTSA has developed a range of tools, training and operational guidance to assist traffic enforcement officers in doing their job.   
We look forward to continuing to work together to make sure that officers in the 17,000 police agencies across the nation are aware of these resources and how they support their work. 
You make a huge difference by reaching out to enforcement agencies.  Most of you have served as officers, and no one understands the challenges of law enforcement better.
You have the necessary credibility, sensitivities and technical knowledge to help these agencies. You can talk to them about their current situation, help diagnose barriers, suggest tools that could help them make progress with enforcement techniques, and follow up with guidance and encouragement.
We know that we can rely on you because you’ve already demonstrated your commitment to public safety by serving in law enforcement and by joining us here today.
We share an important mission at a critical time. 
We know that just as we’re witnessing a rise in motor vehicle fatalities we’re confronting challenges in law enforcement.
But that’s why we came to you. You’re the people who are equipped with the passion and expertise to overcome our challenges and to deliver safer roads.
We’ve always needed brave, dedicated law enforcement officers out on our streets effectively enforcing the traffic safety laws that protect us all. But the need has never been greater than it is right now.
I want you to know that NHTSA is here to support each of you, your organizations, and our shared mission. We are all in this together and — together — we can save lives.
Thank you. 


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256786/ In addition, a study examining demonstration programs in 7 States found reductions in alcohol-related fatalities between 11% and 20% in States that employed numerous checkpoints or other highly visible impaired driving enforcement operations and intensive publicity of the enforcement activities, including paid advertising (Fell, Langston, Lacey, & Tippetts, 2008).  

[2] Source: NHTSA FARS, https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812456