April 7, 2004
Administration’s Words on Traffic Safety Don’t Match Actions; Officials Block Highway Safety Measures While Claiming to Prioritize Safety
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook*
Last May, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta told lawmakers that a moral and economic obligation exists to immediately address transportation safety and that saving lives is an administration priority. Today, while in Paris celebrating World Health Day’s theme, “Road Safety is No Accident,” Mineta touted U.S. road safety, not mentioning that U.S. crashes claim 43,000 lives annually, injure 3 million people and cost $230 billion. In fact, U.S. highway fatalities increased in 2002, the first increase since 1990 (2003 data are not available). He even offered to “share [the United States’] successful formula for reducing traffic fatalities.”
Mineta makes it sound as though the administration pulls out the stops to make highways safer. But as is often the case, Bush officials’ rhetoric does not reflect reality. The United States has dropped from first to ninth in the world in traffic safety over the past 30 years based on fatality rates. Far from working to make highways safer, the administration is hindering efforts. Pending before the Congress is a measure that would dramatically improve highway safety by requiring stronger vehicle roofs, less rollover-prone vehicles, better side impact crash protection, safer 15-passenger vans, stronger tires, improved child safety measures, better information for new car buyers and more.
Based on its pronouncements, you’d think the administration would push for its passage. Instead, though, the administration is doing everything it can to undermine this bill, erroneously claiming that it would interfere with agency priorities and cost too much money. It won’t. Instead, it will save thousands of families from the devastating news that a loved one has been killed or seriously injured in a crash.
The measures called for in Title IV of the bill (S. 1072) are not outside the scope of what the auto industry and the Department of Transportation acknowledge need improvement. The measures address a safety gap that exists between what manufacturers are capable of installing in vehicles and what the government requires. U.S. senators recognized this; the bipartisan committee that heard the bill passed it unanimously and the full Senate approved it.
The United States should be a leader in traffic safety. Instead, the administration is poised to set us back. Fatality rates are climbing, but this administration – despite its flowery rhetoric – is senselessly blocking improvement. Officials should stop grandstanding and start supporting the safety goals in S. 1072.
* Joan Claybrook was NHTSA Administrator from 1977-1981.