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Decades of Delay Have Led to Needless Bloodletting on Nation’s Highways; Congress Must Act Now

March 23, 2004

Decades of Delay Have Led to Needless Bloodletting on Nation’s Highways; Congress Must Act Now

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook*

Every year, enough people are killed in auto crashes to fill 172 airplanes. That’s 43,000 people killed and 3 million injured, with the crashes costing $230 billion annually in 2000 dollars. Today, we will see the human face of auto safety, not just the horrifying statistics.

On critical auto safety matters, the government has delayed for years, and in some cases, decades, allowing thousands to continue being maimed and slaughtered on our roads. In what we have identified as the 10 top safety provisions in legislation now pending before the House, and as we have detailed in our report, Keeping the Safety in SAFETEA, the Department of Transportation has failed to act on vital safety issues ranging from rollover prevention and vehicle mismatch to 15-passenger van safety and child safety.

For instance, in 1971, the government announced plans to write a rollover prevention standard requiring vehicles to be stable. We still don’t have a standard, because the government has been studying the issue for 30 years, thus automakers can churn out vehicles that are dangerously rollover-prone. For roof crush, the government issued a watered down standard in 1971 and has done nothing since to improve it. Similarly, the government has thoroughly studied how and why people are ejected from vehicles during crashes but has done nothing to stop it.

In 2000, Congress passed legislation in the wake of the Ford/Firestone tragedy addressing tire safety and consumer information. But an unfinished agenda exists. Thirty thousand rollover deaths have tragically occurred since the Ford/Firestone legislation was passed. Still to be dealt with are roofs that crush in rollovers, vehicles that are dangerously prone to tipping during emergency maneuvers, and the increasing mismatch in the size of vehicles.

The highway bloodletting must stop. The pending bill, S. 1072, which the Senate has passed, addresses all these vital areas. These are not outside the scope of what the auto industry and the DOT have acknowledged need improvement. Rather, they address a safety gap that exists between what manufacturers are capable of installing in vehicles and what the government requires. This legislation sets a firm agenda to ensure that more years don’t slip by while people die needlessly on the roads.

* Joan Claybrook was NHTSA Administrator from 1977-1981.

Click here to view the entire report