Safety is the Department of Transportation's top priority. And when we say that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is laser focused on road safety, we mean across the board.
Everyone knows that I have taken up the fight to end distracted driving. But just because we are now highlighting this emerging phenomenon does not mean that we have stopped spending time and money to persuade people to buckle up, put their children in car seats, and not drive drunk. That important work continues unabated.
The fact remains that from 2005 to 2008, distraction-related fatalities jumped from 10 percent to 16 percent of all traffic fatalities on American roads. And that jump may be only the tip of a very deadly iceberg.
Unfortunately, law enforcement departments do not always collect this information at a crash site, and people are not always forthcoming about admitting to cell phone use or texting prior to a crash. Right now, we simply do not know all the crashes where cell phones or texting played a role.
We do know that distracted driving killed nearly 5,500 people in 2009 and injured nearly half a million more.
Yet, according to USA Today, there are some who would like to derail our work spotlighting the dangers of texting or talking on the phone while driving. I want them to know that our fight to end distracted driving will not be deterred.
When we combine the fact that texting while driving has been proven to increase crash risk and the fact that the number of text messages has increased from about 7 billion per month in 2005 to about 173 billion per month in 2010, we have a recipe for a persistent and ongoing problem.
Ask Elissa Schee, Judy Teater, Amos Johnson, or any of the thousands of others who have buried family members killed in distracted driving crashes, and you'll get the same unapologetic response: Distracted driving kills.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the resources and capability to meet several challenges at the same time. Our work to end the distracted driving epidemic has done nothing to impede our other important safety efforts. And a brief glance at NHTSA's recent safety initiatives demonstrates this.
For example, during our annual “Drunk Driving. Over The Limit. Under Arrest” winter holiday crackdown, I joined with NHTSA to urge states across the country to adopt a “No Refusal” strategy to catch suspected drunk drivers who refuse breathalyzer tests. Fourteen states are already employing the “No Refusal” strategy, which enables law enforcement officers to quickly obtain warrants from “on call” judges to take blood samples from suspected drunk drivers who refuse a breathalyzer test.
In partnership with automobile manufacturers, DOT and NHTSA are researching a non-intrusive, inexpensive, and reliable in-vehicle technology that can determine whether a driver is impaired and prevent vehicle operation. The results of three Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADDS) prototypes are expected later this year.
Our concerted efforts to combat drunk driving are having an effect. From 2008 to 2009, the number of drunk-driving fatalities on US roadways declined by 7.4%.
And our efforts to promote seat belt use continue. In May, I launched our annual Click It or Ticket enforcement mobilization to encourage all motorists to wear their seat belts. In June, we celebrated the new primary seat belt law passed by the Kansas legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mark Parkinson. And in November, NHTSA released new research showing that strengthening state seat belt laws and increasing fines for unbuckled motorists substantially increased seat belt use. Through this research, the agency sent encouraging news to states on another way they can improve belt use.
Again, we have results that show our hard work is bearing fruit: National seat belt use hit a record high of 85 percent in 2010.
On child passenger safety, we continue to promote correct use of age-appropriate child safety seats. In September, we kicked-off National Child Passenger Safety Week to encourage parents and caregivers to get their child safety seats checked at one of the thousands of free safety seat inspection stations set up across the country.
And just last month, NHTSA proposed a new safety regulation to help eliminate blind zones behind vehicles that can hide the presence of pedestrians, especially young children.
NHTSA also continues to pursue increased safety in other areas. In October, we launched our upgraded 5-star vehicle safety rating system. The new system uses more rigorous tests, better crash data, and higher standards to make safety ratings tougher and more meaningful for consumers.
And last week, we announced a final rulemaking aimed at decreasing occupant ejections in passenger vehicles. The new Department of Transportation standard, which will help reduce the number of people partially or completely ejected through side windows during rollover crashes, will begin phasing in during 2013.
Now, I could continue listing initiatives because NHTSA's safety record is a long one. But I think the point is clear. No matter what form the challenge presents--drunk driving, child safety seats, seat belt use--NHTSA remains laser-focused on road safety.