NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will launch a strategic plan this fall aimed at eliminating all traffic deaths in the U.S., the agency’s administrator, Mark Rosekind, revealed during a presentation to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The federal safety initiative known as Road to Zero will focus efforts on three main components: proactive vehicle safety, advanced safety technologies, and human choices, Rosekind said during a June 3 presentation to the MADD board of directors in Washington, D.C.

In 2014, 32,675 Americans lost their lives on U.S. roads and highways, according to NHTSA. The tally for 2015 is expected to be even higher. About one-third of these deaths involved an impaired driver.

“The parents in MADD know better than anyone else that these aren’t simply numbers,” Rosekind said. “These are people, every one of whom is a daughter or son, a friend, a colleague.”

The text of Rosekind’s presentation was posted on NHTSA’s website.

The plan’s proactive vehicle safety component will take advantage of agreements reached earlier this year with 18 automakers.

“The commitments will help catch safety defects before they explode into massive recalls,” Rosekind said. “They will help improve the quality of data that automakers and NHTSA analyze to identify defects today, and they will find ways to generate better data in the future.”

The plan’s advanced safety component comprises automated vehicle technologies, such as automatic emergency braking. Also included is continuing development of advanced alcohol detection technology, Rosekind said, to prevent vehicles from being driven by a drunk driver. Such research will focus on both breath-based and touch-based sensors designed for in-vehicle use.

“Technology has a proven track record of saving lives,” Rosekind said. “With advanced safety technologies, we may be on the cusp of a safety innovation revolution.”

A NHTSA study concluded that over the course of 50 years, basic safety technologies — such as seat belts and air bags — have saved 613,501 lives.

The plan’s final component will involve efforts to change human choices for the better.

“While advanced safety technologies will play an important role in reducing the impact of poor human choices or errors, we can’t wait until that technology is here,” Rosekind said. “We know that a driver choice or error can be tied to the cause of 94% of crashes. Too often, that’s a driver who gets behind the wheel after drinking and puts themselves and others at risk.”

NHTSA is holding behavioral safety summits across the country to find new solutions to problems such as drunk, drugged, distracted, and drowsy driving.

“This fall, we will convene a final summit to lay out a roadmap to deal with these challenges in a new comprehensive way, starting with zero and building our strategy to get us there,” Rosekind said.

He also stressed that the agency needs the help of MADD to achieve the goal of zero road fatalities.

MADD has succeeded in driving real change, both legislatively and culturally, and Rosekind praised the organization for its commitment. A total of 25 states now have mandatory all-offender ignition interlock laws.

“That’s 24 more than had it before you started,” Rosekind told MADD’s board of directors. “When you work in Washington, D.C., that kind of progress in such a short time is staggering.”