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Reduce the Costs of Traffic Casualties: Boost NHTSA?s Budget

May 9, 2002

Reduce the Costs of Traffic Casualties: Boost NHTSA?s Budget

Statement of Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen President

The report released today by the government revealing the $230.6 billion annual economic impact of traffic casualties is chock full of numbers ? injuries, property damage, alcohol- and speed-related crashes and more. But it is missing one statistic that is sure to shock: 94 percent of transportation-related deaths are traffic fatalities, yet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) receives just 1 percent of the Department of Transportation?s (DOT) budget.

One percent is woefully small. Unfortunately, it shows where priorities lie. When adjusted for inflation, NHTSA?s budget today is just a third of what it was in 1980, when I was administrator. The lack of resources hamstrings the very agency responsible for improving traffic safety nationwide. With additional resources, NHTSA could reduce these exorbitant costs to society.

NHTSA needs money so it can better pinpoint what safety improvements both automakers and the government should pursue. We need better data on such things as auto defects and new safety technologies such as side impact air bags, on-board crash recorders and driver assistance systems. Without this information, it is difficult to clearly demonstrate the benefits of, for instance, window glazing or the value of an early warning system for auto defects.

Amazingly, the $230.6 billion annual cost of crashes amounts to 2.3 percent of the GDP. We urge the DOT to allocate more money to NHTSA. Even if DOT doesn?t act, Congress should appropriate more money to this cash-strapped agency. If we want to lower fatality numbers, we need to give NHTSA more resources.

Still, we must remember when diving into the sea of numbers that statistics don?t tell the complete story. We can never put a dollar figure on a human life or even come close to finding a number that represents all the human suffering caused by traffic crashes. Numbers describing the cost of crashes don?t put a face on those killed and injured.

*Note: Joan Claybrook was NHTSA administrator from 1977-1981.