Auto Safety: At the foundation of the House infrastructure bill
Cathy Chase, Joan Claybrook, Jason Levine and William Wallace, Opinion Contributor
June 30, 2020
This spring, despite the entire country essentially being locked down or working from home and rush hour traffic becoming a distant memory, the long-standing public health crisis of auto fatalities remained. In fact, even with far fewer vehicles on the road, car crash rates increased in states across the country. Now, with consumers saying they are more likely to drive than take public transportation in a post-COVID lockdown world, it is more vital than ever to address the unacceptable, but preventable, death toll of 100 lives a day that motor vehicle crashes take on U.S. families. Fortunately, we have proven solutions available and they are included in the new infrastructure improvement bill, the Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2), which the House of Representatives will vote on this week. We support this legislation because the bill’s provisions on motor vehicle safety and its other components would advance safety technologies proven to reduce crashes and harm and to make sure strong safety standards are in place to save lives.
Despite clear and compelling evidence of safety benefits, today lifesaving crash avoidance technologies are out of reach for many consumers, being sold as a part of expensive trim models or add-on packages. This is especially the case with pedestrian detection, an enhancement of AEB, and blind spot warning. A Consumer Reports analysis recently found that car buyers often must pay more than $2,000 extra for these features, which are frequently bundled with items like premium stereo systems or sunroofs. The goal of zero roadway deaths cannot be achieved unless auto safety innovations benefit all road users, including pedestrians and bicyclists. Vehicle safety must be made standard — something the Moving Forward Act recognizes.
The legislation also addresses several other deadly hazards, recognizing that no single mistake should cost a life, especially when available technology can prevent tragedies. The bill confronts the scourge of impaired driving by requiring advanced drunk driving prevention technology. It compels proven and affordable technology to help prevent children’s deaths in hot cars, recognizing that even the most conscientious, loving parents and caregivers can get distracted or suffer from fatigue and unknowingly leave their child in a vehicle. Furthermore, it resolves the problems of carbon monoxide poisoning and rollaways associated with keyless ignition systems, also known as push-button starts. And, limousine safety is greatly improved because celebrations should never end in tragedy.
Recognizing the adage that “safety sells,” the bill includes a much-needed overhaul of the popular New Car Assessment Program known as “Stars on Cars.” This pioneering consumer education program began in the U.S. over 40 years ago and used market forces to encourage safer vehicles. Government inaction, however, has allowed the ratings system to seriously lag behind its international counterparts as 98 percent of all new vehicles get either four or five stars. The changes required by the Moving Forward Act would incentivize car makers to include safety upgrades and enable car buyers to make informed choices based on useful, comparative data, instead of having to rely on the outdated “participation trophy” into which the program has devolved.
The commonsense policy improvements in the Moving Forward Act would achieve meaningful and lasting changes to road safety. Car crashes result in tens of thousands of fatalities each year, millions of serious injuries, and a cost to society of over $800 billion in direct and indirect expenses annually. With the nation facing a public health and safety catastrophe, this bill is an opportunity for swift and decisive federal action to dramatically decrease deaths and make our roads safer. We urge Congress to pass this vital legislation.
Cathy Chase is President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Joan Claybrook is former administrator of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Jason Levine is executive director of Center for Auto Safety and William Wallace is manager of Safety Policy, Consumer Reports.