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Feds, Safety Group Partner to End Auto Deaths

CARS.COM — The federal government and a safety group have formed a new coalition to end all motor-vehicle deaths by the 2040s. It’s a lofty goal: In July, the Department of Transportation estimated that U.S. motor-vehicle deaths increased 7.7 percent in 2015 to around 35,200. Early estimates suggest fatalities have increased even more in the first half of 2016.

Related: This Is Your Brain on Apps: The Distracted Driving Dilemma

The so-called Road to Zero coalition partners several DOT arms with the National Safety Council, a nonprofit safety advocate. The DOT says it will grant $3 million over the next three years to fund safety programs and aims to eliminate all motor-vehicle fatalities within the next 30 years. Those programs will start with existing strategies to promote seat belt usage, add more rumble strips to U.S. roadways and increase truck safety, among others.

The move comes weeks after the government proposed a four-pronged strategy to regulate and promote self-driving cars. With the proliferation of self-driving technology, the DOT calls it “increasingly likely” that zero deaths can become a reality in the next few decades. The coalition aims to accelerate this by focusing on infrastructure, vehicle technology, law enforcement and behavior strategies.

Of course, even if self-driving technology becomes mainstream, market saturation will take time. A 2012 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found it takes about 30 years between the introduction of a promising safety feature and the point at which it’s in 95 percent of the cars on the road.

“It’s true that safety features being introduced now could potentially eliminate millions of crashes,” IIHS said at the time. “But even if these features were capable of preventing all crashes — and right now they’re not — they won’t be available in the vehicles most people drive for many years to come.”

In today’s statement, David Kim, the deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, conceded zero deaths “will be difficult, will take time and will require significant effort from all of us, but it is the only acceptable vision.” And National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind called the zero-death target the “only acceptable goal.”

The DOT points out that the U.S. isn’t the first country to throw down the gauntlet for zero deaths. Sweden developed a zero-death strategy for its roadways in the 1990s and it’s making strides toward that goal. Data from the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group shows that in 2013, 144 passenger vehicle occupants died in traffic accidents in Sweden. And governments aren’t the only ones to pledge such a goal: Swedish automaker Volvo announced in 2008 that it aimed for zero deaths or serious injuries in a new Volvo by 2020.

That isn’t so far-fetched: An IIHS study in 2015 found zero driver deaths had occurred in nine late-model cars from the 2009 to 2012 calendar year. Among them were versions of pricier luxury cars like the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Lexus RX 350 and Volvo XC90 — but also mass-market models like the Honda Odyssey, Subaru Legacy and Kia Sorento.