This past week, drivers across the southeastern U.S. were subject to a targeted law enforcement effort aimed at helping reduce driving speeds on highways to curb a recent rise in traffic fatalities.
FDOT and Law Enforcement Launch “Operation Southern Slow Down”
From July 18th to the 23rd, state and local law enforcement agencies in Florida as well as the southeastern states of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, in collaboration with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, participated in “Operation Southern Slow Down,” a speed enforcement awareness campaign run annually. Previously known as “Operation Southern Shield,” the campaign involved targeting drivers on interstates and state highways driving well in excess of posted speed limits. In Florida, the Highway Patrol was placing a particular emphasis on speed enforcement on the state’s major interstates and highways, including I-95, I-75, I-10, and Florida’s Turnpike. State and local law enforcement were also looking for drivers breaking the state’s mandatory seat belt law.
Federal Speed Enforcement Efforts in Response to Increased Highway Speeds and Traffic Fatalities
Operation Southern Slow Down/Southern Shield was started in 2017 in response to an increase in rates of drivers being cited for speeding. However, in recent years the federal government has stepped up its efforts to work with states to help curb speeding. The rise in driver speeds peaked during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020 when lockdowns emptied the roads and motorists who were on the road were able to reach even higher speeds with no traffic to slow them down. However, these speeds did not come back down as drivers returned to the roads throughout the latter half of 2020 and into 2021 due to the perceived safety of traveling in one’s vehicle rather than being in close quarters on an airplane, leading to a sharp rise in traffic fatality rates. 2021 saw an 11.2 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled compared to 2020.
According to the NHTSA, 2021 saw the highest number of road fatalities since 2005. The administration reports that nearly 43,000 people were killed in road accidents in 2021, a 10.5 percent increase over the nearly 39,000 fatalities in 2020. Fatalities in accidents on urban roads also rose 16 percent, the largest annual increase on record. Traffic deaths in 2021 increased in 44 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
USDOT Has Also Adopted the National Roadway Safety Strategy
In response to the significant rise in traffic fatalities, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called the trend “a crisis on America’s roadways that we must address together” and noted the USDOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy as one of the Biden Administration’s efforts to curb auto accident deaths. The National Roadway Safety Strategy outlines the USDOT’s comprehensive efforts to reduce the rates of serious injuries and fatalities on highways, roads, and streets, with the goal of ultimately reaching zero traffic deaths.
The National Roadway Safety Strategy is also intended to work in conjunction with the recently-passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which includes the Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program that is intended to provide $6 billion to fund local efforts to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities.
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