May 4, 2004
NHTSA Report Documents Need for Action on Auto Safety Bill
Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
Today’s report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on non-traffic motor vehicle-related deaths further reinforces the need for Congress to enact the strong safety provisions contained in the Senate version of the pending federal highway bill (S. 1072). The report – Data Collection Study: Deaths and Injuries Resulting from Certain Non-Traffic and Non-Crash Events – documents about 350 deaths per year, many of them children, from carbon monoxide poisoning, vehicle backovers, exposure to excessive heat caused by entrapment in a passenger compartment or trunk, and strangulation from power windows.
Although under the law NHTSA has responsibility for protecting the public from such events, the agency does not routinely collect these data. This special report was sparked by requests from consumer advocates and members of Congress.
Many of these deaths are preventable with available and cost-effective design or technology changes. Two of the four major causes of fatalities documented in the report – backovers and power window strangulation – are addressed by safety provisions in Title IV of S. 1072, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA) (the Senate version is now being reconciled with the House version, which has no auto safety provisions). This legislation is expected to be completed before July 1.
Title IV also would require NHTSA to issue improved standards for vehicle rollover propensity and crash protections (including roof crush and belt performance), 15-passenger van stability, side-impact protection (including side head air bags), and important consumer information about vehicle safety.
NHTSA should continue to collect and analyze these data, which come primarily from death certificates, news reports and literature reviews. Congress should move swiftly to pass the pending legislation to prevent the deaths of more children and adults in these traumatic accidents. Public Citizen praises Kids and Cars for its tremendous advocacy in bringing public attention to these tragic, preventable deaths.
Joan Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977 to 1981. Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit, consumer advocacy organization with 160,000 members nationwide.