One of the functions of the US Department of Transportation is to reduce injuries and deaths caused by traffic accidents. Over the past 30 years, the agency has been successful in reducing the number of fatalities by improving roads, safety equipment, and driver awareness. However, this trend reversed itself in 2020 and again in 2021 as progress stalled and fatalities increased. 

Almost 95 percent of fatalities on the nation's roads, streets, and highways involve a vehicle. For 2021 that meant an estimated 42,915 lives were lost in vehicle accidents, a number the US DOT believes is unacceptable. In response, the US DOT put together a National Roadway Safety Strategy, which outlines a comprehensive, data-driven approach to identify the most dangerous locations and key factors involved in serious accidents. 

More than just slogans and bumper stickers, the NRSS includes a series of maps to highlight different data elements to underscore the cause and effect of serious accidents, including the impact on the community. Starting with a heat map showing hot spots of fatal crashes, viewers can zoom in on areas with the highest concentration of accidents. 

But the hot spots don't tell the full story. According to the US DOT, the average county experiences 11 fatalities per year, with the top 50 counties accounting for almost a quarter of all deaths. The next map shows the fatalities by concentration, allowing viewers to look at individual counties to see if they had more or fewer deaths than average. 

It seems safe to conclude that the counties with the highest populations or the highest number of roads have the highest number of accidents and fatalities. However, that's not always the case. Another map shows counties with high populations broken out by higher and lower rates as well as low-population areas with higher rates of fatalities. 

The stated mission of the US DOT's NRSS is to reduce fatalities and serious injuries, with the ambitious goal of eliminating them altogether. In addition to the maps, it plans to provide data and analysis on how the agency's funding addresses roadway safety and what programs are most effective.

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