Keeping America’s roadways safe is a big job--and DOT can’t do it alone. Law enforcement officers across the country, our partners in the pursuit of safety, play a critical role in implementing highway safety programs, raising awareness, and applying laws.
This afternoon, FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, and FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro had the opportunity to thank these dedicated safety partners at a mid-year meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
They each spoke about DOT’s efforts to keep our roadways safe--and the many ways in which law enforcement officials help achieve that goal.
For one example, DOT’s “Click It or Ticket” program is the most successful seatbelt enforcement campaign ever, with 85% of all Americans now buckling up each time they get into a vehicle. NHTSA estimates that seatbelt use saved more than 72,000 lives between 2005 and 2009 alone.
For another, our “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaign has helped save lives and get drunk drivers off the street. From 2008 to 2009, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities declined by 7.4 percent.
These successes wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless enforcement efforts of police officers around the country--nor would our continuing progress in removing unsafe commercial truck and bus drivers from our highways.
Law enforcement officers are also crucial allies in the fight to end distracted driving. States across the country are enacting tough anti-distraction laws, and police and highway patrol officers are on the front lines of enforcement efforts.
Last year, for instance, DOT partnered with police departments in Syracuse, New York and Hartford, Connecticut for “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other,” a campaign to test whether public awareness campaigns coupled with increased enforcement efforts can decrease distracted driving incidents. Early results indicate that it can: hand-held cell phone use behind the wheel dropped 56 percent in Hartford and 38 percent in Syracuse, while texting declined 68 percent in Hartford and 42 percent in Syracuse.
These safety programs, coupled with tough enforcement efforts by officers around the country, have resulted in a historic decline in the number of traffic deaths and serious injuries on our nation’s highways. 2009 saw the lowest traffic fatality and injury rates ever recorded, and total highway deaths fell to 33,808 for the year, the lowest number since 1950. This record-breaking decline in traffic fatalities occurred even while estimated vehicle miles traveled increased.
But even one traffic death or injury is one too many. So as we at DOT continue to pursue road safety, we’ll keep looking to our friends in law enforcement for their support.
As Administrators Mendez, Strickland, and Ferro said today, we’re proud to call them partners, and none of us will rest until we reduce the number of deaths on our highways to zero.