At a livestreamed press event in California on July 19, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) kicked off the agency’s first national paid media campaign dedicated solely to the perils of speeding and shared one of its new television spots with the media.
NHTSA’s Speeding Wrecks Lives media campaign will begin on July 20 and run through August 14. The eight million dollar campaign includes television spots, radio ads, digital elements and social media in both English and Spanish. The primary target for the campaign is drivers aged 18 to 44. NHTSA also plans to provide messaging resources to states so they can tailor them to their needs.
Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA Administrator hosted the event and set the stage. While developing the campaign over the past several months, NHTSA met with members of the driving public, said Cliff. The goal was to find out when and why they speed, as well as how risky they consider speeding.
“We heard drivers say they speed because they're running late, the speed limit is unreasonable, or they're moving with the flow of traffic. Some even said it's just how they prefer to drive,” said Cliff. “The majority of the people we talked to all said they know what the speed limits are, but they just ignore them.”
Cliff went on to say that drivers see speeding “as no big deal.” While they view distracted driving, impaired driving, and driving in inclement weather as risky, too many drivers take speeding far to casually.
From 2019 to 2020, the U.S. saw a 15% increase in speeding-related fatalities, according to Cliff. And, speeding is not just a highway problem. Rather, neighborhood roads are far from safe. In 2020, 87% of all speeding-related traffic fatalities on American roads occurred on non-interstate roads.
There is no acceptable level of speeding, noted Cliff. “My message today is: Speeding has consequences. And those consequences could cost you your life. It could also kill your loved ones, pedestrians, cyclists, and people in other cars and trucks on the road. We need to view speeding as socially unacceptable and as dangerous as driving impaired.”
The new campaign aims to educate the public and change their mindset. The goal is get people to understand that any and all speeding is unsafe. Speeding gives the driver less time to react to objects on the road, sharp turns, or other drivers. It also extends a vehicle’s stopping time and makes it harder for other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists to judge a vehicle’s distance.
California: A Microcosm of a National Problem
Several speakers joined Cliff to help position the need for the new anti-speeding campaign. Amanda Ray, Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), noted that excessive driving and speed have contributed to more than 100,000 crashes annually in The Golden State.
“It claims an average of 600 lives per year, and is responsible for countless other injuries,” said Ray.
California’s speeding problem mirrors that of several other states. It’s a national crisis that gained momentum during COVID-19. During the early months of the pandemic, the CHP observed a significant decrease in the number of vehicles on California’s roadways, but with that decrease, came an increase in the rate of speeding vehicles, and a number of traffic fatalities.
CHP officers alone issued nearly 600,000 citations for speed-related violations in 2020 — and that number increased by approximately 10,000 in 2021.
Even more alarming was the number of motorists who were speeding in excess of 100 miles per hour.
“Pre pandemic, we issued more than 15,000 citations to drivers exceeding the 100-mile-per-hour speed limit. But during the pandemic, that number increased 93% with more than 29,000 citations issued for the same offense,” noted Ray. “So, although the traffic volumes have returned almost to the pre pandemic levels, speeding, and speed-related crashes and fatalities remain a primary concern of the highway patrol.”
Barbara Rooney, Director of California’s Office of Traffic Safety and Vice Chair of the Governor’s Highway Traffic Safety Association, also made remarks. She framed the situation bluntly: Speeding is one of the leading causes of death on our roadways, killing nearly 12,000 people in 2021. That translates to more than 32 people every single day.
She also pointed to another troubling trend. In the U.S., the percentage of speeding-related pedestrian deaths of children younger than age 15 more than doubled from 2018 to 2020.
Rooney hammered home the need for an educational campaign. “Far too many drivers consider the speed limit just a suggestion. We need to change that thinking. Speeding is short-sighted, selfish, and dangerous to everyone on the road,” said Rooney. “It's time to change the social norm so that speeding — like driving impaired or unbelted — is completely unacceptable.”
Campaign to Combat Speeding
At the close of the event, Cliff aired two versions of a television spot from the new campaign — one in English and one in Spanish.
It features a series of car crashes with a voiceover saying, “This guy was going a little over the speed limit, look at the damage.” At first the viewer sees the wrecked car, but then the voiceover repeats, “look at the damage.” This time the viewer sees an unconscious young girl in a hospital bed. The tagline for the new campaign is “Speeding catches up with you.”
Almost 43,000 people died in crashes in 2021, a 10.5% increase from 2020. That's the highest number of traffic deaths in 16 years. Moreover, NHTSA predicts increases in fatalities in 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico compared to 2020. And in California, fatalities rose more than 10% over 2020.
While not all of these deaths are linked to speeding, NHTSA and other experts believe eliminating speeding will reduce traffic collisions and unnecessary deaths. NHTSA’s commitment to the new anti-speeding campaign is a commitment to saving lives, noted Cliff.