Each year 1.3 million people die on the world's roads, and nearly 50 million are injured.
That's why the United Nations is launching the Decade of Action on Road Safety in May 2011. But the US is not waiting; last week National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland was a featured speaker at the World Automotive Summit.
The annual summit offers an opportunity to exchange information and share best practices so the global community can take advantage of lessons learned in one country or advances made in another.
Administrator Strickland explained that in the US, NHTSA uses a wide range of programs to address behavioral and vehicle-related causes of highway crashes. I'm proud to say that the foundation of those programs is good data, sound science, and careful engineering.
And one of the data trends Administrator Strickland shared with the global summit is a rise in driver distraction as a cause of crashes in the US. From 2005 to 2008 distraction-related fatalities as a proportion of all traffic fatalities jumped from 10 percent to 16 percent. And in 2009 distraction was a factor in 20 percent of all crashes that resulted in injury.
To reduce these crashes and the terrible costs they impose on families and communities, NHTSA is borrowing from our experience with seat belt use and drunk driving.
As Administrator Strickland told the summit, "Ultimately a similar combination of strategies worked to curb drunk driving and increase seat belt use. And we see it beginning to have some effect on distracted driving."
He was also able to report that in 2009, for the first time in four years, the proportion of distraction-related fatalities as a percentage of all traffic fatalities leveled off. That leveling off coincided with our national anti-distracted driving campaign, other public education efforts, and an increasing number of state anti-distracted driving laws. Many of those state laws borrow from the sample legislation we designed for their use.
But a critical challenge to safety continues to be the potential explosion of infotainment systems in vehicles. We are very concerned about the increased driver workload and distraction those devices create. So we're working hard to develop safety guidelines for in-vehicle technologies such as communication, information, and navigation systems.
Rather than react to every technology as it pops up and becomes a distraction, we are taking the lead--not a backseat. And we are challenging the auto industry and the cell phone industry to work collaboratively with us to keep drivers focused on one activity: driving safely.
He and I agree that our latest numbers tell an encouraging story--our campaign to end distracted driving is beginning to pay dividends. And we both feel optimistic that--between our efforts, the increased grassroots activity, and state legislation--we will make even further progress in the future.