Feds aim to eliminate traffic deaths as fatalities climb

Feds aim to eliminate traffic deaths as fatalities climb
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Road fatalities climbed 10.4 percent in the first half of 2016, according to preliminary estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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An estimated 17,775 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first six months of this year, compared to 16,100 fatalities in the first half of 2015.

The alarming news comes as federal safety officials announced a slew of initiatives on Wednesday aimed at reducing traffic deaths, following a historic spike in road fatalities in 2015. 

Last year saw the largest increase in traffic deaths in 50 years, a disturbing trend that has renewed calls to make the nation’s roads safer.

“Our vision is simple — zero fatalities on our roads,” said Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxTo address America's crumbling infrastructure, follow Britain's lead Report: Chao has used government planes seven times this year Week ahead in tech: Lawmakers turn focus to self-driving cars MORE. “We know that setting the bar for safety to the highest possible standard requires commitment from everyone to think differently about safety– from drivers to industry, safety organizations and government at all levels.”

The DOT announced that it is committing $1 million in annual grants over the next three years to bolster organizations that are working on lifesaving programs. 

The new partnership with the National Safety Council, being dubbed “Road to Zero,” is hoping to eliminate fatalities on U.S. roads within the next 30 years. The coalition said it will focus on education, engineering, enforcement and emergency medical services.

Some experts have attributed the uptick in road deaths to an improved economy, lower fuel prices and more drivers on the roads. Preliminary estimates show that vehicle miles traveled in the first half of 2016 increased by 50.5 billion miles, or a 3.3 percent increase. 

But the estimated rise in traffic deaths far outpaces the increase in driving. Some have pointed to an uptick in distracted driving and cellphone use behind the wheel.

The NHTSA cautioned in its preliminary report, however, that “it is too soon to attribute contributing factors or potential implications of any changes in deaths on our roadways.”

Still, the DOT has been looking to autonomous technology to help significantly reduce traffic deaths, pointing out that a majority of crashes are caused by human error. 

The administration rolled out federal guidance last month aimed at the safe development and deployment of self-driving cars.

“Every single death on our roadways is a tragedy,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “We can prevent them. Our drive toward zero deaths is more than just a worthy goal.  It is the only acceptable goal.”