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Washington — The U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Safety Council announced plans on Wednesday to eliminate traffic fatalities within the next 30 years.

The ambitious goal was announced at the start of a daylong conference in northern Virginia that featured representatives of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the safety council as the groups were launching their “Road to Zero” campaign.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said the new campaign is necessary because 35,092 people died in traffic crashes in 2015, which he said is a 7.2 percent increase in the number of roads deaths from 2014. The increase was the largest jump in traffic fatalities that was recorded since 8.1 percent hike in 1996, according to NHTSA.

“After a decade of progress reducing fatalities, we’re suddenly losing ground,” Rosekind said. “We can’t just keep more of the same and expect a different result.”

The groups said the “Road to Zero” campaign will focus on promoting “proven lifesaving strategies” such as increasing seat belt use, installing rumble strips, truck safety, change driver behavior and data-driven enforcement.

The coalition said it also will “lead the development of a new scenario-based vision on how to achieve zero traffic deaths based on evidence-based strategies and a systematic approach to eliminating risks.”

Rosekind said changing driver behavior is particularly important to reducing the number of deaths that occur on U.S. roadways.

“NHTSA research clearly shows 94 percent of crashes can be tied back to a human choice or error,” he said, citing factors like drunken or distracted driving.

The NHTSA chief said the transportation department is committing $1 million to the cause of eliminating traffic deaths on U.S. roadways. He said technology like self-driving cars can be used to reduce the number of crashes that are caused by driver error.

“The Road to Zero coalition is being formed to take immediate action today and build out a plan for the long term,” he said. “Together, we create a zero traffic scenario that is feasible and achievable in the next 30 years.”

Rosekind added that NHTSA’s goal of increasing the compliance of auto recalls to 100 percent is also part of the campaign to reduce the number of traffic deaths that occur in the U.S.

“Our goal is prevent dangerous safety defects and other kinds of actions rather than waiting until they show up on our roadways,” he said.

NSC President and former National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Debbie Hersman dismissed criticism that the zero traffic fatalities goal is unrealistic.

“I would posit that it isn’t impossible, it just hasn’t been done yet,” she said. “When President (John) Kennedy said we were going to go to the moon in a decade, a lot of people thought that was impossible. But we did it.”

Hersman said the safety council is also planning to contribute $1 million to the zero fatality campaign over the next three years.

“We are in the midst of a public health crisis, and it isn’t Zika,” she said. “We have got to get engaged and energized about this.”

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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