Header for US Department of Transportation Blog

You are here

NHTSA seeks to improve highway safety, reduce traffic fatalities

NHTSA seeks to improve highway safety, reduce traffic fatalities

"Significant and Seamless" initiative will accelerate new technologies to reduce key safety risks

Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that, while highway deaths over the past five years continue to remain at historic lows, the number of deaths on U.S. roads increased to 33,561 in 2012, up 3.3 percent from 2011.

To a Department where safety is always our number one priority, any increase in the number of traffic fatalities is cause for concern. 

That’s why NHTSA today announced a new effort that involves the agency and the automotive industry working together to aggressively accelerate technologies that would improve safety by targeting some of the most persistent causes of traffic fatalities.

Graphic of crash avoidance technology

Called "Significant and Seamless," this initiative focuses on real solutions already in development that can address critical safety threats that have plagued our roads for decades--including failure to use seat belts, drunk driving, and driver error:

  • Seatbelt Interlocks would prevent a vehicle from being operated if the driver and passengers are not properly buckled, saving thousands of lives a year by boosting the current national level of seatbelt use from 86 percent to near 100 percent.
  • Driver Alcohol Detection Systems for Safety (DADSS) can prevent a vehicle from being started when a driver's blood alcohol content is detected by the system to be above the legal limit.
  • Forward Collision Avoidance and Mitigation (FCAM) technology would use sensors to detect an impending forward crash before it occurs, alerting the driver to take corrective action or automatically applying the vehicle's brakes. 

Close-up photo of a seat belt

Each year, highway deaths claim more than 30,000 lives. And while we’ve made substantial progress over the past 50 years, it’s clear that we have much more work to do. 

It's also clear that these three factors--not applying seat belts, drunk driving, and driver error--are areas where we can work with automakers to make a big difference relatively quickly.

In the meantime, DOT will continue to work closely with our federal, state, and local partners educating drivers about unsafe practices and protecting the motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians who use our nation's roads.

Caitlin Harvey works in the DOT Office of Public Affairs.

Post new comment


How much will the cost be to the auto makers? We are in the worst economy since the great depresion and yet the government can think of nothing else but new regulations that will burden an already struggling industry.

While these are great ideas, it is unfortunate that they cannot be implemented across the board. The NHTSA says that it will provide "regulatory relief" to car manufacturers that choose to implement these new technologies. I suppose time will tell how appealing the NHTSA's offer is to manufacturers and how effective the technologies will be if installed. The Driver Alcohol system is the most intriguing one to me, because I am curious to know how a car will test the blood alcohol content of a driver without being burdensome.

This blog proposes an innovative approach to highway traffic safety. For decades, people have been bombarded with ways to stay safe while driving including always wearing a seat belt, not driving drunk, or staying focused on the road. While these practices significantly increase the safety of a driver, many people seem to ignore the warnings. I think putting the standard of safety into the technology of a car rather than the discretion of the person driving it is an excellent idea. These barriers, such as not allowing the car to operate until a seat belt is engaged, would significantly reduce high way deaths. As shown by rising highway death tolls caused by not wearing seat belts or drunk driving, people do not always take the highway safety warnings to heart. This might be the most effective way to make sure those laws are followed.

This is an interesting approach to vehicle safety. Usually, as the article alludes, the issue of safely operating a vehicle on the road lies in the driver's hands. If the driver decides to drive impaired or not wear a seat belt, there is not much any one can do to stop that. Having the vehicle hinder certain unsafe practices is an excellent idea. Both the technology that would keep the car from operating if Blood Alcohol is above a certain limit, as well as, if a seat belt is not buckled is innovative. This could finally help reduce the amount of driver fatalities on the road, since people would not have a choice except to particpate in safe practices while driving. As a driver on the road myself, I would feel safer if these ideas became the norm in the world of transportation.

The reliance on technology to reduce road deaths is unrealistic and destined to fail. What can work is a concerted collaboration of five disparate groups that at present are only working together at the margins: 1. Road safety agencies - that attempt to educate drivers 2. Road regulatory agencies - that attempt to make road networks safer and regulate drivers and other road users 3. Vehicle designers, manufacturers and regulators - that attempt to make the inherently safer 4. Human-systems integrators - who attempt to optimise the integration of human drivers with vehicular systems and with other systems that humans rely upon 5. Telecommunications service providers - that regulate and promote the immersive use of wireless telecommunications for all kinds of purposes but who do not see any obligation to regulate such use when this is dangerous' The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering at The University of Sydney, Australia, has initiated a project to bring these five groups together. The project is called 'Wireless Connectivity to improve Road Safety [WiContiRS]'

But the road lines are WRONG! The MUTCD is outdated and contradictory. Fix that first. The EU has ONE style crosswalk, easily seen by the driver. The US has a thousand different crosswalks. Tackle that one! Murray Bodin

I like the indication, based on the top picture showing pedestrian detection, that we intend to use these systems to detect pedestrians so that we can reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities and injuries. This is probably my biggest worry about vehicle automation technology research: how do we ensure that we protect pedestrians and bicyclists? The top picture tells me that we are concerned.
Submit Feedback >