TRAFFIC SAFETY: After fatalities spike, feds aim for zero traffic deaths

Oct. 6, 2016

The NHTSA and other agencies committed to eliminating traffic deaths within 30 years

The Obama administration on Wednesday committed to a goal of eliminating traffic deaths within 30 years, setting a timeline for the first time on an ambitious agenda that relies heavily on the auto industry's development of self-driving cars.

The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other agencies committed to the objective after a sharp uptick in roadway deaths.

2015 marked the deadliest year on American roads since 2008, an unsettling revelation that renewed efforts to combat distracted driving and encourage the development of safety systems. In the first half of 2016, deaths spiked 10.4% to 17,775, compared to a year earlier, according to preliminary NHTSA estimates released Wednesday.

Although U.S. auto-safety regulators had previously said their goal was to someday eliminate road fatalities altogether, Wednesday's announcement marks the first time they've identified a specific timeline.

For starters, NHTSA, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Safety Council will coordinate efforts to promote safe driving through a campaign called Road to Zero, which will include marketing efforts and the installation of basic safety infrastructure such as rumble strips. The Transportation Department will spend $1 million per year for the next three years on grants.

But those smaller steps belie what will become a much more substantial push to promote the development of self-driving cars, road infrastructure that can communicate with vehicles and advanced safety systems in vehicles.

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