NHTSA People Saving PeopleNHTSA

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People Saving People

On the Road to a Healthier Future

In 1966, traffic crashes resulted in over 50,000 fatalities and the fatality rate was three times as high as it is today. Congress recognized this public health crisis and created the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Safety Bureau. That momentous event was a crossroad in our nation's efforts to address this crisis. If the extraordinary progress in improving highway safety had not been made since that time, over 120,000 people would have died last year and hundreds of thousands more would have suffered traumatic injury.

Death and injury from traffic crashes continue to be among the most serious public health problems facing our country. Motor vehicle injuries constitute 99% of non-fatal transportation injuries and 94% of transportation deaths. The statistics for 1996 alone offer a grim reality: there were over 6.8 million crashes, in which over 41,000 were killed and another 3.5 million were injured. With yearly increases in travel and no improvement over our current safety performance, fatalities and injuries could increase by 50 percent by 2020. This is simply unacceptable.

I. Highway Safety Problem

Motor vehicle crashes are the number one safety problem in American transportation. They account for 94 percent of transportation death and 99 percent of transportation injury. In 1996, 41,907 people were killed and 3,511,000 people were injured in police reported crashes. The lifetime economic cost of these crashes is over $150 billion annually. The share borne by tax payers is staggering: the public pays 13 percent of the cost of injuries treated in an emergency department; 26 percent of the cost of injuries requiring hospitalization; and 48 percent of the cost of injuries treated in a rehabilitation hospital.

The challenges facing us in the future are daunting. Demographic populations such as older and younger drivers who are over involved in crashes will grow significantly. Aggressive driving and speeding are becoming more common with increased travel and congestion. The improvements in the fatality rate have been flat for the past several years as has our progress with drunk driving. With yearly increases in travel and no improvement over our current safety performance, fatalities and injuries could increase by 50 percent by 2020.

II. World Leader

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is dedicated to public health and injury control. The Agency, as part of the Department of Transportation (DOT), enhances the quality of highway transportation by helping to make it safer and more economical. NHTSA is multi disciplinary, drawing from such diverse fields as epidemiology, engineering, biomechanics, the social sciences, human factors, economics, statistics, education, law enforcement, medicine, and communication to address some of the most complex and challenging problems in the field of public health.

NHTSA's mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce traffic related health care and other economic costs. The American people expect government to protect their best interests by:

The Agency will develop, promote and implement effective educational, engineering, and enforcement programs toward ending preventable tragedies and reducing economic costs associated with vehicle use and highway travel. NHTSA's strategic goals for accomplishing this include:

III. Future Trends

Changes in demographics, travel, health care, motor vehicles, the role of government and behavior are all factors that affect highway safety.

Population Changes:

Changes in Travel:

Changes In Health Care:

Motor Vehicles: Expected changes in passenger vehicles will be as profound as any that have occurred over the history of the automobile. In the early years of the 21st century, significant new power sources will be added to the standard gasoline fueled internal combustion engine. The ways that drivers interact with the vehicle and how vehicles interact with the road and surrounding vehicles will be significantly altered as well. Customers will demand larger, roomier cars and manufacturers will be forced to find new ways to reduce vehicle weight or improve engine efficiency to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards and higher goals for fuel economy. Greater use of aluminum and plastic for exterior components is anticipated.

The Role of Governments: In the final years of the 20th century, welfare and education programs are being transferred to the States. Calls for a balanced budget, user fees, and innovative financing arrangements are changing the way in which the Federal government interacts with State governments.

Behavioral Trends: Facilitating safe driving behavior is a major portion of NHTSA's technical assistance to States and communities. The Agency is continually seeking new ways of communicating the need to not drink and drive, wear safety belts, and properly use other safety equipment.

IV. Towards A Safer Future

The previous pages have described the trends and resulting traffic safety situation that could occur if immediate action is not taken to mitigate one of the most serious health problems facing our country -- death and injury from traffic crashes. With yearly increases in travel and no improvement over our current safety performance, fatalities and injuries could increase by 50 percent by 2020. Given this bleak prospect, the Agency must (1) become a catalyst for improving the human element; (2) facilitate the design and deployment of the most effective vehicle and road technology; (3) drive the costs associated with traffic crashes to an absolute minimum; and (4) exploit information technology to create a foundation for safety research, policy decision-making and safety impact evaluation. We believe that this can best be accomplished by a single Surface Transportation Safety Administration. Until a single agency is created, NHTSA is ready and able to discover and respond to new and emerging transportation safety and related public health problems and trends. We have pledged that NHTSA will lead the nation in creating the highest level of road safety in the world. The following pages describe our plans for working with people, vehicles and the environment to create a safer future.

Catalyst for Improving the Human Element:

Facilitate the Design and Deployment of the Most Effective Vehicle and Road Technology:

Drive the Costs Associated with Traffic Crashes to an Absolute Minimum:

Exploit Information Technology to Create a Foundation for Safety Research, Policy Decision-Making and Safety Impact Evaluation:

V. The Surface Transportation Safety Agency in 2020

In accordance with the ONE DOT concept described in the Department Of Transportation's Strategic Plan, this new Agency will encompass the surface transportation safety responsibilities of the Department. This single Surface Transportation Safety Administration (STSA) will provide our partners one-stop shopping for all DOT services relating to the mitigation of death and injury in surface transportation. The Agency will be:

For additional information, please contact:

September 1997

U.S. Department
of Transportation
National Highway
Traffic Safety