The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has run campaigns over the years to persuade motorists to drive sober, to wear seat belts and to put down cellphones while behind the wheel.
The federal agency has called attention to the dangers of driving through construction zones, and reminded motorists to watch out for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. NHTSA runs initiatives such as July's National Vehicle Theft Prevention Month.
But NHTSA has never run a national advertising campaign focusing on speeding — until now.
Over the next month, the agency will spend $8 million on public service announcements that will air in English and Spanish on TV, radio and social media as part of its "Speeding Wrecks Lives" campaign.
NHTSA surveyed lead-footed drivers to learn why and when they speed. Most drivers said they disobey speed limits because they are running late, see the limits as unreasonable or are trying to keep up with the flow of traffic. Some said they just prefer to drive fast.
The agency used the results to craft 30-second spots aimed primarily at drivers from ages 18 to 44.
"Drivers see speeding as no big deal," said NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff during a campaign kickoff event in Los Angeles. "We need to see speeding as socially unacceptable and as dangerous as impaired driving."
Speeding is costing people their lives, Cliff said. More than 11,200 died in speeding-related crashes nationwide in 2020, and fatalities are expected to be up 5% when crash data for 2021 is finalized, NHTSA said.
The disturbing trend began with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Law enforcement nationwide ticketed countless drivers exceeding speed limits by 50 or 60 mph.
And the problem has not been confined to freeways. Drivers are racing on state, county and neighborhood roads, where more than 87% of speeding-related deaths in 2020 occurred, NHTSA data shows.
In Minnesota, speeding-related deaths rose from 75 in 2019 to 166 in 2021, according to preliminary numbers released last week by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). As of Thursday, 55 people had died this year in wrecks in which speeding was a factor, according to DPS.
The State Patrol this summer brought back its Highway Enforcement for Aggressive Traffic campaign — HEAT for short — to crack down on speeding and other aggressive driving behaviors.
Col. Matt Langer of the State Patrol, speaking at the NHTSA campaign's kickoff event in Los Angeles, had a blunt message for motorists.
"We prefer you listen to us and slow down, rather than meet one of our troopers who pulls you over," Langer said. "Education works. Enforcement does save lives, and it will happen.
"Too many people have been injured or killed on our roadways lately. It needs to stop. Speed enforcement is one thing we can do our best to combat that unacceptable and ridiculous rise in fatal crashes. We should not accept what is and has been happening."