In October 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report titled, Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Half (January-June) of 2021. The news is pretty grim and reflects a need for something safer — such as Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD), which is something Tesla is working on with the purpose of saving lives.
According to the report, there were around 20,160 deaths related to motor vehicle crashes just in the first half of this year. This is the largest six-month increase that has ever been recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history. The figure rose 18.4% over 2020’s result, and the NHTSA noted that this is also the largest number of projected fatalities in that time period since 2006.
The report also included regional differences in fatality rates. The region with the highest increase in fatality rate was Region 10 with a 26% increase. This area includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. The second highest regions were 8 and 9, which included Hawaii, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.
The NHTSA noted that during the pandemic, in 2020, there were significant increases in fatalities as well as the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. This increase/trend has continued into the first half of this year, 2021. Fortunately, the increase slowed down in June, which is currently the month with the greatest decrease. So, there is a sliver of hope in the data.
Along with the traffic fatality data, the NHTSA released another report on its behavioral research findings from March 2020 through June 2021, and this one indicated that speeding and traveling without a seatbelt remain higher than during pre-pandemic times. NHTSA Deputy Administrator Dr. Steven Cliff called the report sobering and reminded folks that these deaths are easily preventable.
“The report is sobering. It’s also a reminder of what hundreds of millions of people can do every day, right now, to combat this: Slow down, wear seat belts, drive sober, and avoid distractions behind the wheel.
“All of us must work together to stop aggressive, dangerous driving and help prevent fatal crashes.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the news a crisis and pointed out that this shouldn’t become a part of everyday life. He also announced that the NHTSA would produce the first ever National Roadway Safety Strategy, which will help everyone working to save lives.
“This is a crisis. More than 20,000 people died on U.S. roads in the first six months of 2021, leaving countless loved ones behind. We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America.
“Today we are announcing that we will produce the Department’s first ever National Roadway Safety Strategy to identify action steps for everyone working to save lives on the road. No one will accomplish this alone. It will take all levels of government, industries, advocates, engineers, and communities across the country working together toward the day when family members no longer have to say goodbye to loved ones because of a traffic crash.
The NHTSA noted that preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) showed that vehicle miles traveled during the first half of 2021 increased by around 173.1 billion miles — 13%. Based on the data, the fatality rate for the first half of 2021 increased to 1.34 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. This number is up from the projected rate of 1.28 fatalities per 100 vehicle miles traveled in the first half of 2020. Acting FHWA Administrator Stephanie Pollack pointed out that safety is key to addressing the crisis of fatalities.
“Safer roads and safer speeds are key parts of addressing this crisis of fatalities and serious injuries on our roadways.
“FHWA is committed to a Safe System Approach and to working closely with local and state transportation agencies to make every road that is designed or built with federal funds safe for everyone who uses it.”
National Roadway Safety Strategy
The new National Roadway Safety Strategy, which is currently being prepared, is expected to focus on bringing together the work being done across the USDOT while putting forth actions that reduce serious injuries and deaths on the roads. The agency didn’t go into detail about what those actions would be, but it did say that it wants to ensure safer people, roads, vehicles speeds, and post-crash care. It also noted that the strategy will focus on new priorities that target the most significant and urgent problems. Pretty words, for the time being.
Tesla’s Role In Safety
If you do a YouTube or Twitter search, you will see dozens of experiences where Tesla’s Autopilot or FSD Beta saved someone, an animal, or avoided an accident. I really believe that Tesla, with its laser focus on safety, will play a critical role in ensuring greater road safety.
The company also puts out crash data statistics that compare Tesla drivers with the NHTSA’s data on national averages. I would like to see the crash data by automaker and see other automakers go to this level in safety reporting. Do other luxury automakers see similarly low levels of accidents and fatalities? Do any other brands have much lower rates than the national average? Do other automakers even have such data?
I think that the NHTSA is completely correct in calling the rise in fatalities a crisis, and that it needs to work with automakers (not just Tesla) on issues that pertain to safety. In the case of Tesla, I believe that the technology Tesla is developing will save lives. Tesla’s not the only one developing self-driving technology, but it seems that it is the only one in the crosshairs of the NHTSA despite the low accident and fatality rates of its drivers. Perhaps focusing on preventing these fatalities instead of creating road blocks preventing the development of life-saving technologies would help, in my opinion. [Editor’s note: At the moment, there is no sign the NHTSA has slowed development of Tesla FSD in any way. Though, publicly stated concerns from some politicians — both Republicans and Democrats — about public testing of glitchy, beta ADAS software as well as an antagonist attitude from a new NHTSA advisor have many expecting a higher level of regulation. We’ll see what comes from the regulator, which has historically been very hands-off with Tesla’s development of ADAS technology.]
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