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Texans Deserve Better; Rep. Joe Barton Should Support Pending Auto Safety Measures

June 23, 2004

Texans Deserve Better; Rep. Joe Barton Should Support Pending Auto Safety Measures

Statement of Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director, Public Citizen’s TexasOffice

We are here today to talk about the single most comprehensive and critical package of auto safety measures to cross the desk of Congress in a long time. If passed, these safety measures would dramatically reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries sustained not only by Texans but by people all over the country. It’s time to stop accepting that a record number of people are killed on the road each year, and it’s far past time Congress does something about it.

The 10 key, cost-effective improvements in the bill address long-overdue safety loopholes and gaps. The measures would require roofs to be stronger and vehicles to be less rollover-prone. They would address the problem of larger vehicles hitting smaller vehicles, improve protections for people involved in side crashes, make dramatic safety improvements for children, require 15-passenger vans to be safer, and a lot more. All these are contained in a bill called the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act, otherwise known as SAFETEA.

Why do we need SAFETEA? We need it because so many people die or are seriously injured on Texas roads every day. Consider rollover crashes. In Texas, 2,880 people have been killed in rollover crashes since Congress enacted safety legislation after the Ford/Firestone tragedies in 2000—that’s 14 times the number of deaths nationally that made Congress jump into action back in 2000, in just Texas alone. Many of these deaths could have been prevented. But the government lacks a stability standard that would ensure vehicles aren’t excessively prone to rolling over. And the government standard for roof strength – which is key in rollover crashes – is a joke. So a vehicle rolls over, its roof crushes in and the people inside the vehicle have their necks broken needlessly.

SAFETEA would prevent a lot of broken necks, other injuries and deaths. But its fate depends on a congressional conference committee, on which Rep. Joe Barton sits. Barton is the 13th largest recipient of auto industry money overall, including presidential candidates so far in the 2004 election cycle.   And the only vehicle production facility in Texas is here in Arlington, where General Motors turns out SUVs like the Chevy Yukon. 

History shows that, every time he gets a chance, Smokey Joe Barton rolls over for automakers.  Yet here Rep. Barton has an opportunity to be a hero for every family in America by standing up for the people instead of the auto industry.  He should leave the safety in SAFETEA and say no to the automakers, which cut corners on safety to increase profits, crushing families and dreams.

Many of the safety technologies in the bill are feasible, readily available and very cost effective, but now are installed only in luxury vehicles.

Safety should not be reserved for the rich.  Today, we call on Rep. Barton to work to make highways in Texas and elsewhere safer. He can start by supporting this bill. I particularly wish he were here to listen to our next speaker, Patrick Parker, who will explain firsthand why these safety measures are so critical.