Michigan aboard effort to bring traffic deaths to zero

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 12, 2015

This year might not hit the target, but state and national agencies are looking forward to a time when they won’t have to count traffic fatalities on Michigan’s roads.

Since 2012, the state of Michigan has committed to the campaign known as Toward Zero Deaths. The campaign, which goes by #TowardZeroDeaths on Twitter, aspires to one day prevent traffic fatalities altogether.

Mark Bott from the Michigan Department of Transportation said Michigan has adopted a Strategic Highway Safety Plan for 2013-2016 that contains a vision of “Toward Zero Deaths on Michigan Roadways.” 

The state’s stated short-term goal was to reduce deaths from 889 in 2011 to 750 in 2016 by “fostering effective communication, coordination and collaboration among public and private entities.”

According to Bott, as of Oct. 6, 729 people have died in 2015 due to Michigan traffic incidents. According to the state, almost 90 percent of fatal crashes can be blamed on driver behavior. 

Michigan tries to build awareness about traffic deaths by periodically posting a count of lives lost or related messages on electronic “dynamic message signs” along major thoroughfares.

“We also advocate what citizens can do to drive the numbers down,” Bott said.

MDOT asks drivers to use their seat belts and to slow down to a careful speed in adverse weather. It also warns against drowsy, impaired or distracted driving.

Kelly Hardy, program manager for safety at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said her organization is one of the national TZD campaign’s steering committee groups. 

Hardy called TZD a national strategy that started developing around six years ago. Prior to starting development on the national strategy, she said, a few states or organizations had a target goal of reducing traffic deaths to zero. But it wasn’t widespread like today, with more than 40 states adopting that type of vision, she said.

“There wasn’t a national plan that tied all stakeholders together,” she said.

Hardy said TZD published a strategy document in 2014 on how to prevent deaths, and the campaign has tried to increase awareness for it. The national strategy aims at building a “safety culture” and also prioritizes steps to make driving, vehicles and infrastructure safer while making EMS responses more effective. 

“The main idea is building on what we already know, work toward reducing fatalities (and) also focus on developing new ways to really bring the numbers down,” she said.

Learn more about Toward Zero Deaths by visiting www.towardzerodeaths.org. Learn more about the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials by visiting www.aashto.org. To reach the Michigan Department of Transportation, visit www.michigan.gov/mdot.