July 17, 2003
NHTSA’s 2002 Highway Fatality Statistics Confirm Pressing Need for Safety Improvements Contained in Senate Legislation
Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s release today of its final count of the number of traffic fatalities for 2002 offers grim evidence that we have a serious safety problem that needs immediate attention. The number of deaths reached the highest level in 12 years. The number of deaths reached the highest level in 12 years. The fact that rollover crashes were responsible for 82 percent of the increase should be a wake-up call to the automobile industry and Congress. Automakers can and should protect motorists from death and serious injuries in rollover crashes.
The good news is that legislation approved by the Senate Commerce Committee contains strong measures to make driving safer. This bill contains a host of automobile safety improvements and builds significantly on the reforms in the TREAD Act of 2000. In particular, the bill requires improvements in the crashworthiness of automobiles, including sport utility vehicles, in which rollover fatalities increased by 14 percent in 2002. Safety rules have not kept pace with the changing face of the highway. The SUV explosion poses tremendous risks to SUV occupants in rollover crashes and motorists in cars that crash with SUVs. The proposed law contains long-overdue safeguards to protect SUV occupants in rollovers and has aggressivity measures to protect other motorists.
Under the Senate provisions, NHTSA would create new safety standards to prevent rollover crashes and to strengthen vehicle roofs so that passengers would be far more likely to survive these devastating crashes. Additional standards for frontal and side impacts also would improve survival rates.
These are sensible steps that are desperately needed, as these new statistics show. From the installation of seat belts to the more recent advancements in air bag technology, we have made great strides in improving auto safety. But, as these new data show, we still have work to do. Congress can literally save thousands of lives by committing to safety and passing this legislation.