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Traffic Safety: Then, Now and the Future

NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens Talks About Highway Traffic Safety

Here at NHTSA, we are committed to saving lives and preventing injuries on our nation’s roads. The last five decades show incredible improvements, as traffic deaths have dropped from more than 52,000 lives lost in 1970 to about 36,000 in 2019*. The decrease comes as our population has grown and more people are on the road — bringing the fatality rate to just one-quarter of what it was in 1970.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at some of NHTSA’s focus areas. We begin with occupant protection. Buckling up is one of the easiest ways to stay safe during a vehicle crash, and it’s helped bring fatalities down over the decades. Today, seat belt use is at an all-time high of 91%, whereas 30 years ago, it was just 66%.  

Another critical program area for NHTSA is child passenger safety. Keeping our youngest passengers safe in the right car seats for their ages and sizes is crucial to their safety. Another important area of safety concern is vehicle heatstroke. Tragically, more than 850 children have died from heatstroke since 1998.  

As NHTSA marks its 50th year, we invite you to learn more about highway traffic safety — then, now, and future — by visiting our Risky Driving, Road Safety, Equipment and Technology & Innovation sections on our website. 

*1970-1974: historical data; 1975-2018: NHTSA’s FARS data; 2019: estimate