Texas Crash Victim Calls on U.S. Rep. Joe Barton to Support New Vehicle Safety Measures

June 23, 2004

Texas Crash Victim Calls on U.S. Rep. Joe Barton to Support New Vehicle Safety Measures

Texan Injured in Rollover Crash Calls for Vital Safety Legislation; Barton Key to Passage

ARLINGTON, Texas – A Childress man who became a quadriplegic in a rollover crash and his wife made a tremendous effort to join Public Citizen today in calling for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Ennis) to support vital safety measures pending before Congress. They appeared at a press conference outside Barton’s Arlington office.

The measures, contained in S.1072, would dramatically improve vehicle safety and end a multi-decade history of government inaction on crucial vehicle safety standards. They would require vehicle roofs to be stronger and vehicles to be less rollover-prone.

They also would address vehicle mismatch (larger vehicles hitting smaller vehicles), frontal protection in crashes where the corners of vehicles collide, side-impact crash protection, child safety (including booster seats, power window lift-up levers, backover prevention technologies, and the development and greater use of child-sized crash test dummies), 15-passenger van safety, tire safety, improved restraints (such as seat belts and side head air bags), and better consumer information for new car buyers.

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 2 and 33, and fatalities have increased in recent years. In 2002, 42,815 people were killed on the highways, the most since 1990. There are 10,600 people killed in rollover crashes each year – representing one third of all occupant deaths – and rollover fatalities accounted for 82 percent of the total fatality increase from 2001 to 2002.

In Texas, 2,926 people were killed in crashes in 2002, the latest year for which data are available. That number has been rising steadily; in 1992, 2,294 people were killed, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In addition, 2,880 people have been killed in rollover crashes in Texas since Congress in 2000 enacted safety legislation after the Ford/Firestone tragedies. The rollover fatality rate in 2002 was 4.58 per 100,000 people, ranking Texas 27th among states. Between 1992 and 2002, 9,387 people were killed in rollover crashes on Texas highways.

“The measures Congress enacted after the Ford/Firestone tragedies were positive steps, but since 2000, more than 30,000 people nationwide have died in rollover crashes,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “If enacted, these safety measures would prevent thousands of needless deaths and serious injuries on Texas highways. Rep. Joe Barton owes it to his constituents to support these measures.”

The safety measures pending before Congress have been passed by the U.S. Senate as part of a highway bill called the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA), but their fate lies with a conference committee. Barton is on that committee and is one of three key lawmakers in the House charged with negotiating the auto safety provisions in the final bill. The House version of the legislation does not contain any auto safety provisions.

Childress resident Patrick Parker, who became a quadriplegic after a 2001 rollover crash, echoed the call for Barton to act. Parker was injured when he swered and avoided a deer, and then while correcting, hit a second deer on the front corner of the truck The truck rolled immediately upon impact, with the cab crushing and breaking his neck.

“I have to live with the consequences of a government roof strength standard that is way too low,” Patrick Parker said. “It’s really important that lawmakers in Washington hear my story. But so far, I have been unable to get through to Rep. Barton.”

The government’s test for roof strength is more than three decades old and calls for static pressure to be placed on the roof of just one side of the vehicle – rather than a dynamic test, which simulates a rollover crash and would more realistically measure the conditions in a rollover crash. Also, the test is conducted with the windshield intact. In real rollover crashes, though, the windshield often shatters immediately and so cannot help hold up the roof. Thus the test is far too easy for vehicles to pass, allowing companies to put vehicles with weak roofs on the road.

“The auto industry has used excuses all these years to avoid doing the right thing,” said Patrick’s wife, Dena Parker, who has launched a petition drive calling on Congress to improve vehicle safety. “If we had a meaningful roof crush standard, Patrick could have walked away from his accident.”

The provisions in the bill are backed by auto safety and consumer groups but are opposed by the Bush administration and the auto industry, who inaccurately claim they will be too expensive. In fact, safety technologies are feasible, readily available and very cost effective. For instance, some manufacturers conduct tests that require their vehicle’s roofs to hold up to much tougher punishment, and they reinforce the roofs and pillars accordingly. The bill also would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue standards for safety technologies including safety glass, side air bags, electronic rollover stability systems, safety belts that tighten to hold the occupant securely as a crash begins, belt use reminders and backover prevention technologies. Many of these already are installed in more expensive vehicles.

“Auto manufacturers have the technology to make safer vehicles,” said Smith of Public Citizen. “Congress should ensure that they are installed in every vehicle and not just luxury models.”

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To read Tom “Smitty” Smith’s statement, click here.

To read Dena Parker’s statement, click here.

To read Patrick Parker’s statement, click here.

To sign the Parker’s petition, click here.