With U.S. highway deaths rising fast, federal safety regulators want to convince American motorists to slow down — but with even a police crackdown on speeders showing little impact, authorities may need to turn to Europe for advice on new anti-speeding technology.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to kick off a new campaign aimed at getting drivers to slow down voluntarily, the effort meant to position speeding “as undesirable,” and “seen as negatively as other types of bad” road behavior, new NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff told Reuters.
Along with distracted driving and intoxicated driving, an increase in speeding since the COVID pandemic struck has been directly linked to the rise in highway fatalities. Preliminary data show that traffic deaths rose 10.5% last year, to 42,915 — the highest number since 2005. Speeding was blamed for 11,258 of those fatalities, a 17% year-over-year increase.
During the last several years, authorities across the country reported a major increase in both the number of motorists exceeding the speed limit, as well as the speeds at which they are driving.
In California, the number of tickets issued last year for exceeding 100 miles per hour nearly doubled, to around 30,000, according to state data.
Initially, the surge in speeding was linked to a sharp decline in traffic as the pandemic struck and states across the country enacted lockdowns. But, even as traffic levels have started returning to pre-COVID levels, motorists haven’t slowed down. And the results are deadly. A study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found:
- 6.4% of male drivers involved in all traffic crashes were speeding;
- 15.2% of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding;
- 11.2% of drivers in the 15- to 20-year-old age group involved in crashes were speeding; and
- 15.1% of all drivers who were drinking when they crashed also were speeding.
In Michigan, where speed-related highway fatalities rose 8% last year, to 200, state, county and local police have been upgrading enforcement as part of the “Great Lakes, High Stakes” campaign.
“We hope this increased enforcement over the coming weeks will help change these dangerous driving behaviors and save lives,” said Alicia Sledge, interim director of the Office for Highway Safety Planning.
The new NHTSA campaign puts the emphasis on social acceptance in a bid to get drivers to slow down, explained Administrator Cliff.
Whether that will be more successful than recent enforcement efforts is far from certain.
Turning to technology
Going beyond that, safety experts are looking for help from the auto industry. Several manufacturers have introduced features allowing parents to set limits on how fast their teen drivers can go. But new European standards just going into effect this month could rein in lead-footed adults, as well.
The Intelligent Speed Assistance system determines the local speed limit, either through navigation data or sign recognition technology. When a motorist goes over the limit ISA can issue a warning in a variety of ways, whether a visual or acoustic alert, or haptic feedback, such as a vibrating steering wheel. The technology could also be used to automatically slow down a vehicle, if a manufacturer chooses to go that approach.
At least for now, motorists will be able to override the system, though that could change later.
The technology will be mandatory on new vehicles debuting after July 6, 2022. All vehicles will need be equipped with ISA as of July 2023.