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NHTSA head nominee investigating Tesla raises alarm on rising US road deaths

(Credit: Tesla Greater China)

Steven Cliff, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vows to address the massive increase in US road deaths this year. 

On December 16, Cliff told a senate panel that the United States has “seen an unprecedented rise in roadway fatalities. I am committed to turning this around.” The Biden nominee also stated that the US must learn “how to change a culture that accepts the loss of tens of thousands of people in roadway crashes as inevitable.” 

In October, the US Department of Transportation’s NHTSA released a report, titled Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Half (January-June) of 2021. According to the NHTSA report, about 20,160 people died in motors vehicle crashes in the first half of 2021, up 18.4% compared to 2020. The NHTSA notes that 2021’s fatalities from vehicle crashes is the largest number of projected fatalities for the first half of a year since 2006. 

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An NHTSA behavioral research on March 2020 through June 2021 indicated an increasing number of drivers engaged in riskier behavior after the United States declared a public health emergency in March 2020. Riskier behavior included speeding, failure to wear a seatbelt, and driving under the influences of alcohol and drugs. The behavior continued through June 2021 and remained higher compared to pre-pandemic times. 

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg plans to produce the Department’s first-ever National Roadway Strategy to help decrease fatalities from motor vehicle crashes. 

“This is a crisis. More than 20,000 people died on US 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,” Buttigieg said in a press release. 

The National Roadway Safety Strategy will be released in January. It will be rooted in the Safe System Approach principles and identify significant actions the Department plans to ensure safer people, roads, and vehicles. 

Apart from being US President Joe Biden’s nomination for NHTSA head, Steven Cliff also oversees an NHTSA investigation on Tesla and its Autopilot system. Cliff noted that the NHTSA hopes to “have those investigations wrapped up soon,” though he did state that he does not have a “specific timeline” in mind. “We’re gathering data now and we’ll determine what those next steps will be,” the NHTSA head nominee said.

Ironically, some emergency first responders believed the NHTSA’s focus on Tesla was quite counterproductive considering how dangerous American roads have become. And the opinions of first responders may carry some weight in the matter of fatalities from car accidents as many emergency personnel perish on the job on a frighteningly frequent basis. 

For Cliff, though, the first step to decreasing deaths from car crashes would be to pass Biden’s infrastructure bill. He said the bill would increase the NHTSA’s budget by 50% and “will improve our understanding of where and how crashes happen by improving data quality and expanding electronic reporting to move from paper-based data collection systems to digital systems.”

The NHTSA’s report on the US’ traffic fatalities for the first half of 2021 could be viewed below.

Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Half (January–June) of 2021 by Maria Merano on Scribd

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NHTSA head nominee investigating Tesla raises alarm on rising US road deaths
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