CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Federal officials are looking for help from the University of Virginia when it comes to reducing auto fatalities.

For decades, there had been success in reducing the number of auto fatalities, but recently that success had stalled and even begun to regress.

So the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has turned to the UVA Center for Applied Biomechanics.

According to a release, the NHTSA has awarded UVA more than $4 million, which may increase to $11 million, to further research into how to reduce crash deaths.

This funding is coming from the Infrastructure Law that has boosted support for improving transportation infrastructure across the country.

The release says NHTSA had 12 available research contracts, and UVA won eight of them.

The funding will support research into why women wearing seat belts are hurt more often in crashes than men, what effect reclining in a passenger seat has on injury risk in a crash, how to make buses and limousines safer for occupants, and how to better protect pedestrians cross roadways among other projects.

The release says the federal government’s transportation agencies have often turned to the biomechanics center at UVA in part because of its reputation for researching car crashes and the resulting injuries.

However, officials say the increase in highway fatalities has given the research new urgency and resulted in more funding.

During the pandemic, a 30-year trend that saw the number and rate of roadway fatalities driven down started to reverse.

UVA says its Center for Applied Biomechanics is a top choice for this kind of research due to its longstanding partnership with NHTSA.

The center uses a lot of technology for its research, and the results of past research have helped create safer automobile designs.

“Our field has done a great job in making cars safer through advanced seat belts, airbags, vehicle designs and collision-avoidance technologies,” Jason Forman, an associate research professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, said. “Cars are much safer than they used to be, but we still have work to do. It’s very encouraging that the government is continuing to invest in fundamental research to keep building on the momentum of the past 50 years of automotive safety research.”

For example, the seat belt project will be looking into how restraints affect men and women differently as well as the impacts they have on passengers of varying ages and sizes.