COMMENTARY: Americans set deadly pace on roadways in 2016

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 2014 and 2015, highway deaths increased in almost all categories. Further, over the first six months of 2016, roadway fatalities increased 10 percent from the same time in 2015. This article investigates ways to reduce this unacceptable trend.

Alcohol-impaired driving deaths increased by 3 percent in 2015. There can be only one route to decreasing this statistic: zero tolerance. Clearly, there are some helpful and innovative programs, but more need to be targeted to youth, who suffer an inordinate percentage of such deaths. Further, concentrating resources in high-density areas where alcohol is served will be of benefit. Finally, state legislatures must pass laws that toughen [penalties imposed upon] repeat offenders.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Motorcycle and bicycle deaths on America’s roads increased in 2015 by 8 and 12 percent, respectively. The increase in motorcycle fatalities in 2015 was the biggest jump since 2012, while bicycle deaths were the most since 1995. The key to reducing road deaths in these areas starts with common-sense safety devices like helmets. Additionally, ensuring proper lights for night travel is imperative.

To the extent that local authorities can expand roadways with designated bike lanes, they should. Otherwise, car-truck drivers and motorcycle-bicycle riders must possess mutual respect for each other and for the shared road they travel on, meaning that neither group should consider itself more entitled to travel on roads than the other.

Car and light-truck deaths in 2015 were the highest since 2009. One reason for the increase may be that Congress recently mandated that all highway safety funds be spent on infrastructure. A second factor could be the higher speed limits, a condition which the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said resulted in 1,900 additional deaths in 2013. To combat this trend, one could look to the only region of the nation which experienced a drop in fatalities from 2014 to 2015: southern states, including New Mexico, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana.

With the majority of highways deaths being attributed to driver choice or error, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has endeavored to create a coalition of groups with the goal of reducing highway fatalities over the next three years.

Modeled after a very successful highway safety program in Sweden, DOT has proposed some familiar solutions — more use of seat belts, providing law enforcement with data, and installing rumble strips where possible. DOT has likewise promised to distribute $3 million in grants for safety initiatives. Obviously, such projects must also tackle the scourge of distracted driving.

Given that Americans have driven more miles so far in 2016 than the previous year, one might cite that as the cause of more deaths on the roads. However, there does not have to be, nor should there be, a link between driving and dying. What is needed is a concerted effort by government, professional drivers, and the public, all of whom have a stake in saving lives on America’s highways.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies director at Delaware State University. A resident of Dover for 27 years, he has taught and published extensively on public policy issues.

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