Time to Reengage Traffic Safety Efforts

Chief Raymond Davis, Ret.
Egg Harbor Township Police Department
Region 2 Law Enforcement Liaison
New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police
On assignment to NHTSA 

Reducing motor vehicle crash deaths was one of the great public health achievements of the 20th century and good news for communities across the United States; however, these downward trends have suddenly been reversed.  Preliminary data from the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows fatalities in 2020 are up more than 7%, compared with 2019.  This dramatic increase in roadway fatalities is the most significant surge since 2007.  The increase occurred even though the total vehicle miles traveled reportedly decreased by 14%.  Preliminary data for the first three months of 2021 show the increase in fatalities rose another 10.5%, while vehicle miles traveled decreased an additional 2.1%. These increases come as traffic stops and citations have decreased dramatically.  Recent data reveals a traffic enforcement decline of more than 50% in some states.

With the health and safety of law enforcement officers being paramount, the reduction in enforcement activity during the COVID-19 crisis is understandable.   Another concern, which compounds the pandemic effects, is the continual negative narrative towards law enforcement.  Law enforcement is most effective when its authority is recognized, supported by the community, and followed willingly.  Demonstrating competence, which is recognized and appreciated by those served, is a behavior that can increase law enforcement effectiveness.

Many dedicated officers work to reduce deaths and injuries from traffic crashes.  Their efforts can immediately and positively affect traffic-safety management of education, engagement, enforcement, and equity efforts.

Educate the public on traffic crashes and their causes by using ready-made materials such as Products for Enforcement Action Kits (PEAK).  These media kits, along with other materials, are available on the NHTSA website (TrafficSafetyMarketing.gov).  In addition, many State Highway Safety Offices have similar personalized materials available.

Engage the public through diverse groups that are representative of your community.   Law enforcement can positively affect traffic fatalities and injuries by developing equitable partnerships with community coalitions and support from traffic safety advocacy groups.  Your state highway safety office, AAA, MADD, and law enforcement traffic associations are great resources.  Another resource is the law enforcement liaisons (LEL) at the state and regional levels.  Each NHTSA region has a Regional LEL who can provide information regarding helpful resources for your jurisdiction.  Each state has an LEL structure that is also ready to assist law enforcement. You can find contact information for your state on the National Law Enforcement Liaison website at www.nlelp.org.

Enforce violations that lead to crashes by utilizing your agency’s data to identify crash contributing factors.  The Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) model was recently updated to consider contemporary topics with a focus on changing behaviors that lead to crashes.

Ensure your actions are equitable with updated training on new innovative strategies that consider all community members’ protection, quality of life, and economics. One example is the “Lights On!” program that replaces the issuance of a ticket with a repair voucher instead.  Also, a good resource is IACP’s Traffic Safety Resource Guide which contains new initiatives and best practices for today’s environment.

A reengaged, professional, competent law enforcement presence that provides a safe environment is desperately needed. The majority of the public trusts and relies on law enforcement and supports traffic safety efforts. Each current law enforcement officer can change the narrative and instill trust by stemming good resource in the rising tide of death and injuries through their demonstrated behavior. Don’t let them down; take action to save lives and prevent injuries.