Thursday, July 14, 2016 | Washington, D.C.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Thursday, July 14, 2016
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. In my role as Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I speak to a lot of groups. Oftentimes, I am out talking to people trying to convince them that highway safety is important. But I have been looking forward to today, because today I am with folks who don’t need to be convinced.
The students in this room are already hard at work to make our roads safer by fighting hard against the Four Ds of impairment: drunk, drugged, distracted, and drowsy driving. So before anything else, I just want to take a moment to say thank you.
The work you do to save lives can too often go unrecognized. In part that’s because we may never know the names of the people whose lives you save through your work. There are no headlines when people don’t die on our roads. But to a mom whose high school student makes it home safely, to the family of the police officer who finishes their shift safely, and to the bicyclist who crosses the road safely because a drunk driver was kept off the road, your work matters a great deal.
This year SADD marks its 35th Anniversary. I’m proud to say that NHTSA has been your partner from the start, and together we have celebrated important achievements over the years. And yet we have a lot more work to do. Let’s start with a number: 35,200. That’s how many people lost their lives on our roads and highways in 2015. But that’s not just a number. Every one of those people is a son or daughter, a wife or a husband, a colleague, a friend. We lose the equivalent of a 747 crashing every week on our roadways.
So where should we be? In my opinion, the only acceptable goal is zero. Zero may be a little number, but it is a big figure in traffic safety. If we’re serious about traffic safety, we need to be serious about getting to zero. There have been many road safety successes over the last decades. But we can’t just keep doing more of the same and expect a different result. We need to do more of the same and we need to try new things. NHTSA is working aggressively on this problem in three areas. I will take a few minutes to describe each of them.
Proactive Vehicle Safety
The first area is Proactive Vehicle Safety. Vehicle safety is a huge component of NHTSA’s mission. But for a long time, our focus has been almost entirely reactive. We wait until a problem becomes apparent, we investigate it, and then we recall vehicles. That’s an important safety tool, and we won’t let up the gas on our enforcement. But we also would far prefer avoiding vehicle problems in the first place.
To that end, earlier this year we announced the adoption of Proactive Safety Principles with 18 automakers. This historic agreement is on a set of broad-ranging actions to help make our roads safer and help avoid the sort of safety crisis that generates the wrong kind of record-setting and headlines. The commitments will help catch safety defects before they explode into massive recalls. They will help improve the quality of data that automakers and NHTSA analyze to identify defects today, and they will find ways to generate better data in the future. This is a new thing for the auto industry, but this approach is already yielding results, and we are excited about the future potential.
Advanced Safety Technologies
The second area we are working on is Advanced Safety Technologies. At NHTSA, we are embracing the potential of automated vehicle technologies that could have massive life-saving potential.
In January, Secretary Foxx announced the Department’s strategy on autonomous vehicles. We’re working hard on new automated safety technology guidelines which we believe will guide the next generation of life-saving technological developments. Too often we talk about a tension, or striking a balance, between safety and innovation, as if there is a trade-off between the two. The way we should be thinking about it is as promoting safety innovation.
This safety technology ranges from what some see as the holy grail — fully self-driving cars, which eliminate the potential for human error — to individual technologies like automatic emergency braking. At NHTSA, we’re excited about the potential of all these safety technologies, in part because we know the potential for technology to save lives. A study we did showed that over 50 years, basic safety technologies—like seatbelts and air bags—have saved 613,501 lives. Technology has a proven track record of saving lives. With advanced safety technologies, we may be on the cusp of a safety innovation revolution. How many more lives could be saved by new tech? We are excited to find out the answer.
The final area of our work is on Human Choices, and this is the area where SADD is focused and where we need the most help. While advanced safety technologies will play an important role in reducing the impact of poor human choices or errors, we can’t wait until that technology is here.
We know that a driver choice or error can be tied to the cause of 94 percent of crashes. Too often, that’s a driver who gets behind the wheel after drinking and puts themselves and others at risk. If we’re going to get to zero, we need to put a huge amount of energy and focus onto that 94 percent.
The people here know what makes up that 94 percent. A huge part of it is the Four D’s — Drunk, Drugged, Distracted and Drowsy driving. Working together there have been successes. Campaigns like Driver Sober or Get Pulled Over and Click It or Ticket, have made a difference, and yet we know drunk driving is still a terrible problem, and too many people are still driving without their seatbelts. What are the new strategies we can adopt to help people make the right choice?
Earlier this year we held a series of behavioral safety summits across the country to look for new solutions to problems like drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving. This fall, we will convene a final summit to lay out a roadmap to deal with these challenges in a new comprehensive way, starting with zero and building a strategy to get us there.
I want SADD at the table for these discussions.
I want to take just a few moments here at the end to talk about why SADD is so important to NHTSA and to me. Earlier this year I was so honored to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from your group. This recognition means so much to me, because it’s coming from the group that has so much at stake in what we do.
One thing you know far too well is that young drivers have significantly higher crash rates than older, more experienced drivers. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. In the U.S. 170,000 young drivers were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2014. After over a decade of reduction in crash fatalities involving teens, our data now show that from 2014 to 2015, fatalities in crashes involving young drivers spiked 10 percent.
We like to say that in traffic safety, it takes a community. Transportation touches every part of our lives. And so our solutions must come from everyone in our lives as well. Since this challenge is facing students like you so directly, it’s necessary that the solutions come from you too. You folks are beacons, from whom we can learn a great deal. Once again thank you for the opportunity to join you today. I wish you the best over these next days, and I offer you NHTSA’s full support.