Speeches and Presentations

Remarks: Driving Behavioral Change in Traffic Safety Summit

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Friday, March 11, 2016 | Washington, D.C.

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Washington, D.C.
As Prepared for Delivery

Thanks to the audience for their enthusiasm about this conference.

In 2014, 32,675 Americans died in traffic crashes. In 94 percent of these crashes, the driver was the cause of the crash.

As behavioral scientist and I knew coming into this job that we needed to take a look closely at our behavioral tools. I didn't know how urgent this would turn out to be.

Our early estimates indicate that traffic deaths in 2015 could be up by nearly 10 percent over 2014.

This means that after a major public health success - a nearly 25 percent drop in traffic deaths in 10 years - we will lose a third of that gain in a single year.

That's why this is urgent. That's why we committed to holding five summits across the nation to gather input, bring you all together, and talk about how we should move forward.

I attended every one of those meetings and I came away with some important insights. First, there is a lot already going on across the nation. Our traditional partners - highway safety offices, law enforcement and advocacy groups - are working at full speed, using many tools.

Second, there is serious consideration out there about how to enhance the effectiveness of traffic safety efforts. We heard about data needs and gaps in Sacramento. In Denver we heard about ways to integrate data and new analytic approaches. In both Cambridge and Denver we heard from public health professionals who pointed out the need to combine data for better epidemiology and the need to revisit basic public health approaches including the social ecological model to consolidate behavior change.

In Atlanta we heard from law enforcement - their commitment to traffic safety and challenges they face in keeping officers on the streets protecting road users. These enforcement leaders told us how they are using new tools like predictive analytics to stretch their resources.

But what made the biggest impression on me in these five meetings across the country was that we have a powerful workforce out there. Our usual partners are there in strength, looking for ways to do more and do better. In addition, we have a range of non-traditional partners - scientists, business people, academics and more - who care about traffic safety and are willing to add their unique contribution.

We need change. We share a vision of zero traffic deaths – but it is clear that our current methods are not enough to get us there. Even if we were able to do 10 percent more of our current methods, we will only hold the line on increasing traffic deaths. We won’t gain any ground. Radical change requires radical ideas.

We have a serious challenge in front of us and the solutions won't be either vehicle technology or behavior. It will be in both.

President’s FY17 budget assists us do that:

  • Helps strengthen vehicle safety by strengthening 5-Star Ratings, ability to find and address safety defects.
  • Helps strengthen behavioral safety efforts, including emerging issues such as drugged driving.
  • Devotes $200 million in 2017, nearly $4 billion over 10 years to speeding automation technology that can address behavioral issues.

Over the next day-and-a-half, I would like you to think hard about our current behavior change methods and how they could be expanded and improved. This is the first time we have done this and there couldn't be a better time than now.

In addition, I want to challenge you to think about a future scenario in which there are zero traffic deaths. Organizations represented here today have put a lot of very good thought and effort into a movement called Toward Zero Deaths. Many of us believe that zero fatalities are feasible, but obviously such a scenario will be far different than the traffic world that we know today. What would that look like? What would it take?

Never lose sight of how important this work is. 32,675. That’s not just a number. We need to save every one of those lives. Your thoughtfulness today and tomorrow will help us get there.



Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Friday, March 11, 2016
Washington, D.C.
As Prepared for Delivery

Yesterday morning I challenged us to think hard about where we are with traffic safety behavioral programs and to consider where we want to be - both in the near term and in the more distant future.

We confirmed how fortunate we are to have a broad range of evidence-based behavioral countermeasures for traffic safety.

There are certainly some new ideas that need examination, and there is a lot of room for better implementation with better epidemiology, expanded partnerships and new technologies.

The really exciting thing here is the discussion about a vision for the future of traffic safety. I believe this is essential if we want to achieve our ambition of zero traffic deaths.

It is clear that the twenty-five year scenario in which there are zero deaths has not been defined. We know that it will not be purely technology-driven and we can be pretty sure that it won't come about solely through behavior change.

The discussion today points toward a future in which the entire system is changed to result in zero deaths: vehicle, human and roadway; pre-crash, crash and post-crash - just as Dr. Haddon intended.

The system-wide changes we talked about this morning – new technologies, optimized behaviors, safety culture – are achievable if we know where we are going and stay on course.

Our EMS colleague pointed out that such a vision was created in the EMS community about 20 years ago. A wide range of organizations with interest in EMS came together and created a visionary, scenario-based EMS Agenda for the Future. That is what we need to do for traffic safety.

The EMS Agenda was tremendously useful in the EMS community. Their vision was used for 20 years – to show policymakers what could be achieved with the right resources and to bring the EMS community together for strategic planning.

So we have a good model and we have a good starting point. Some of you put a lot of thought and energy into the Toward Zero Death initiative. We should start there – and focus on what a community in 2040 with zero traffic deaths would look like.

Based on what we heard today, that scenario will likely be far different than our current world. Yes, some parts will be familiar. Many of our current programs – education programs, strong laws and law enforcement - will exist in optimized form. But there will also be fundamental differences – advanced technologies, new roles and responsibilities, different attitudes and expectations – that will be new and unfamiliar. The first step in realizing this future is to define it.

There is a lot at stake. More than a half million lives will be lost over the next twenty years if we keep doing the same thing we are doing now. Can we change this future? I think so - if we can agree on what it will look like and we each commit to do our part every year between now and then.

We also have a lot of work to do on the near term. We have new countermeasure strategies to evaluate, new programs to implement, new partners to engage and a range of tried and proven strategies to reinforce.

We would like to have you all back here in the fall to do two things. It is important that we utilize all of the insight that came out of our 5 regional meetings as well as meeting here this week, and put together a near -term action plan to refine our range of behavioral countermeasures. Then, it is critical that we start a process to define our vision for Reaching Zero. No one else is going to do this. It's up to us.