Vehicle Safety Requirements in Final Highway Bill Will Save Lives

July 29, 2005

Vehicle Safety Requirements in Final Highway Bill Will Save Lives

Statement by Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen

The motor vehicle safety measures contained in the final highway bill, H.R. 3, will literally save thousands of lives and prevent untold suffering. We are grateful that Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to put safety first. Americans will be much safer on the highways once these changes take effect. We especially appreciate the leadership of Sens. Stevens (R-Alaska), Lott (R-Miss.), Inouye (D-Hawaii), DeWine (R-Ohio) and Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). We also want to thank Reps. Markey (D-Mass.), Bono (R-Calif.), Stearns (R-Fla.), Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Towns (D-N.Y.). In addition, we appreciate the cooperation of Reps. Barton (R-Texas), Dingell (D-Mich.) and Pickering (R-Miss.) in moving the bill forward.

The biggest impact will come from addressing the two most lethal types of crashes – rollovers and side impacts. Rollover crashes kill more than 10,000 people each year and permanently injure more than 17,000. This legislation will require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to create, for the first time, a stability standard designed to prevent rollovers by April 2009. In addition, it will require the agency to update its 34-year-old roof strength standard so that occupants will have more protection when vehicles do roll over. It will further prevent rollover deaths and injuries from ejection by requiring new standards, including for door locks.

Side impact crashes kill more than 9,000 people per year – and they are getting more deadly because of the growing number of high-riding SUVs on the road. This legislation requires NHTSA to write new rules to protect occupants in these crashes by July 2008.

The legislation also requires updated power window switches to protect children from being accidentally choked. It calls for research on tire aging and ways to prevent back-over deaths and improve the safety of 15-passenger vans. It would also require the posting of crash test results on new car price window stickers.

Rep. Oberstar (D-Minn.) deserves special thanks for his strong stance against the trucking industry and the Department of Transportation, which wanted to insert a provision to codify an hours-of-service regulation that was overruled by a U.S. circuit court of appeals last year and harshly criticized for jeopardizing the safety of truckers and motorists alike. This amendment would have increased the hours that a trucker can drive in a week by 20 percent, increasing the likelihood that fatigued truckers, already over-represented in crashes, would be put in further danger. Rejection of this provision is a blessing for all highway users.

This is legislation that benefits consumers immensely and could produce the most significant safety enhancement since air bags were required in all vehicles in the 1991 highway legislation.

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Joan Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977 to 1981.