Drivers took notice of a new initiative to reduce traffic deaths this week.
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. The campaign involved targeting drivers on interstates and state highways driving well in excess of posted speed limits. Highway Patrol placed particular emphasis on speed enforcement on 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 started in 2017. It was 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. This was when lockdowns emptied the roads and motorists were able to speed 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. Nearly 43,000 people were killed in road accidents in 2021. This is a 10.5% 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 increased traffic fatalities, Pete Buttigieg called the trend “a crisis on America’s roadways that we must address together.” He noted the USDOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy as an effort to curb traffic 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 intends to work in conjunction with the recently-passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This includes the Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program. The program intends to provide $6 billion to fund local efforts to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities.
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