Buttigieg Puts Spotlight on Highway Deaths

Transportation Secretary Calls Fatalities a National Crisis
Capitol Agenda plate-new logo

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

Promoting safety on the highways remains the dominant priority for officials at the Department of Transportation and agencies throughout the country.

The release of a new set of data from the department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has again captured the transportation community’s attention. The agency recently announced that 42,795 individuals died in 2022. Their estimate, unveiled last week, relied on data about people involved in motor vehicle traffic crashes. The recent data was a slight decrease from 2021’s estimate of 42,939.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a safety advocate championing funding increases for NHTSA, sought to capture the meaning of the agency’s latest estimate.

“We continue to face a national crisis of traffic deaths on our roadways, and everyone has a role to play in reversing the rise that we experienced in recent years,” Buttigieg said in a statement April 20, as he pointed to the department’s comprehensive safety policy action plan.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks in New York

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (Angus Mordant/Bloomberg News) 

“Through our National Roadway Safety Strategy,” as Buttigieg put it, “we’re strengthening traffic safety across the country, and working toward a day when these preventable tragedies are a thing of the past.”

“NHTSA is continuing to gather and finalize data on crash fatalities for 2021 and 2022 using information from police crash reports and other sources,” the agency explained in its announcement.

In acknowledging the severity of the matter, the Biden administration has issued various directives meant to improve transportation safety. They included producing the Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment as a guide for states, the issuance of a report to Congress about complete streets safety concepts, in addition to updating DOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy.

That safety strategy outlook was published in response to NHTSA’s data pertaining to traffic fatalities. Per DOT, last year’s safety strategy document “outlines the department’s comprehensive approach to significantly reducing serious injuries and deaths on our nation’s highways, roads and streets.”

“This is the first step in working toward an ambitious long-term goal of reaching zero roadway fatalities,” it continued. “Safety is U.S. DOT’s top priority.”

Jeff Farrah


Jeff Farrah, executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, insists that NHTSA’s data supports advancing policies in Congress and at DOT associated with the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles on the roads. Congressional policymakers continue to craft legislation specific to AVs, as well as fiscal 2024 funding bills that likely would increase the budgets for NHTSA and other federal transportation agencies.

“NHTSA’s 2022 traffic fatality report confirms that the safety crisis on our roadways persists. Almost 43,000 Americans died, and risky human driving behaviors like speeding, distracted and alcohol-impaired driving all continue to surge. This still represents more than 115 lives lost each day in motor vehicle crashes,” Farrah said. “AVs are deliberately designed to dramatically improve safety on U.S. roads. Unlike human drivers, AVs don’t recklessly speed, drive distracted, or inebriated. Changing the unsafe status quo on U.S. roads requires action.”

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

April 28, 10 a.m.: The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee meets for a hearing titled, “Tribal Perspectives on Housing and Transportation.”

April 26, 10 a.m.: The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee examines the White House’s fiscal 2024 budget request for the Federal Aviation Administration.

April 26, 2:30 p.m.: The Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee examines the White House’s fiscal 2024 budget request for the Department of Commerce. Secretary Gina Raimondo is scheduled to testify.

Freight Corridor

Remembering former House Transportation Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, a passionate proponent of highway infrastructure.

Legislative Docket

Sam Graves


Updates to national aviation and pipeline safety policies will dominate the upcoming schedule for the transportation panel in the House of Representatives. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) described his work schedule as “busy and aggressive” as he directs colleagues to enact “common-sense policies for a more innovative, resilient and efficient transportation and infrastructure network.”

“Looking ahead to the next few months, we have multiple items that must be reauthorized by the committee. This includes a five-year reauthorization of the [Federal Aviation Administration]. We also will pass a pipeline safety reauthorization and a Coast Guard bill. In addition, the committee will address supply chain challenges and bottlenecks,” the chairman told colleagues April 18 during a hearing to consider infrastructure-centric proposals.


The announcement last week that FAA acting Administrator Billy Nolen will depart the agency this summer prompted reaction from the House T&I leadership.

“Acting Administrator Billy Nolen has performed admirably under difficult circumstances at a time when the FAA is dealing with a number of vacancies in top positions of leadership, including the position of administrator. In fact, based on his time leading the agency in his current position, I believe he proved that he would have made a capable administrator had he been nominated and confirmed. I want to thank him for his service at the agency, and I wish him the best in any future endeavors,” said committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.).

“Billy Nolen has served admirably in his roles as associate administrator for aviation safety and as acting administrator of the entire agency for the last year,” added committee ranking member Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) “The FAA administrator position is an important one for the aviation safety of the flying public, and we need a Senate-confirmed leader in place as soon as possible.”

The Senate awaits a nominee from the White House for the top role at FAA.

Favorite Video

Promoting Justice in Transportation

Favorite Tweet

Talking Trucks on Capitol Hill

The Last Word

Nuclear energy is good for our energy and national security.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, on April 19

Shelly Moore Capito

We publish Mondays when Congress is in session. See previous installments of Capitol Agenda here. Email emulero@ttnews.com with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info: