State Strategies to Reduce Highway and Traffic Fatalities and Injuries: A Road Map for States


With 39 states reporting an increase in traffic fatalities in 2016, traffic safety policy, programs and practices remain a pressing concern across the nation—and governors are an essential part of the solution. State Strategies to Reduce Highway and Traffic Fatalities and Injuries: A Road Map for States highlights steps that governors can take to improve coordination and strengthen existing efforts across state agencies and identifies recent state efforts to adopt strategies to reduce traffic fatalities. The road map is designed as a policy development tool, allowing a state to use all or portions of the road map as it applies to their unique situation.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released data that 37,461 individuals died in traffic crashes in 2016, a 5.6 percent increase from 2015. This follows the record number of traffic fatalities in 2015, which saw the largest year-over-year increase in fatalities since 1966. Traffic crashes remain a leading cause of death by unintentional injury for people aged 1-54 in the United States. These data, and that of the past several years, demonstrate the need to continue targeted efforts to save lives and prevent injuries on our nation’s roadways.

This road map was developed through research and consultation with senior state officials and other national experts in the fields of transportation, public safety and public health. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices conducted an experts roundtable that brought together over 20 state officials and safety experts from across the country to discuss strategies available to states to coordinate and enhance efforts to increase traffic safety.2 The road map reflects the insights and experience of the many experts consulted during its development.

Background and Scope of the problem

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in the United States. In 2016, there were 37,461 traffic-related deaths.3 That number was 5.6 percent higher than in 2015. This follows the record number of traffic fatalities in 2015, which marked the highest number of traffic fatalities since 2008.

Although most of the research on traffic crashes has been based on fatal injuries, nonfatal injuries are also of major concern. In 2016, there were an estimated 4.6 million medically consulted motor vehicle injuries—that is, injuries serious enough that a medical professional was consulted. However, not as much is known about circumstances leading to nonfatal crashes and their effects on injury severity because less data are available for nonfatal injuries. Thus, states need to carefully consider how to gather more data, link data together and craft appropriate strategies with limited information and work to gather more data.

In addition to causing fatalities and injuries, traffic crashes impose a large financial and economic toll. In 2016, the estimated cost of motor vehicle deaths, injuries and property damage was $432.5 billion. This is a 12 percent increase from 2015. These costs include lost wages, productivity loss, medical expenses, administrative expenses employer costs and property damage. In 2012, traffic crash injuries totaled $18 billion in lifetime medical expenses alone.

States face two inter-related challenges: reducing the number of traffic fatalities and injuries, and identifying the causes of nonfatal traffic injuries in order to implement and develop more effective solutions. To address these challenges, states must: coordinate state highway safety planning; enforce state policies and laws on traffic safety; and pursue cost-effective, evidence-based, datadriven safety interventions.

Steps to Address the increase in fatalities

Understanding and identifying factors that contribute to the increase in traffic fatalities and injuries is the first step in addressing this problem. A state must then assess and identify its specific factors. Governors can assist in these efforts by ensuring coordination of key agencies and stakeholders. States are then positioned to set goals and develop action plans for targeted improvement. States can use effective strategies and safety interventions that create a safe-road-user framework, to ensure traffic safety laws and policies are enforced and prioritize safety management planning. Finally, states must develop a coordinated statewide work plan, implement and evaluate their efforts. This policy development sequence is a continuous improvement process and should be informed by data. Further, it must emphasize the importance of cross-agency communication, coordination and collaboration.

  1. Assess the Situation
  2. Coordinate with Key Agencies and Stakeholders
  3. Set and Align Goals
  4. Develop Strategies and Select Safety Interventions
  5. Decide Policies, Implement and Evaluate