Congress, Please give NHTSA the authority & resources to do their job and keep us safe on the road!

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of the ongoing battle over highway safety. The opposition, as far as I can tell, to measures designed to protect travelers on the road demand more research. But are they listening to the research already being done?

One specific example is regarding longer trucks (Double 33s):

“The legislation would force states to allow “twin 33s” — trucks that pull two trailers, each 33 feet long. Only 11 states allow them now, and Pennsylvania is not among them. Double trailers here cannot be more than 28 feet, 6 inches, and single trailers can be no more than 53 feet long.

“Supporters say the change would eliminate 6 million trips each year, improve the environment and cut down on crashes. . .

“The former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration likens the massive trucks to “trains on highways” that would damage roads and endanger motorists. Trucks weigh 20 to 30 times more than cars, and they take longer than cars to come to a stop, particularly on wet and slippery roads. A U.S. Department of Transportation study found that the twin 33s require 22 more feet for braking than the current trucks on the road. In 2013, 3,964 people died in crashes involving large trucks.

“Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat who is crusading against the change, says longer trucks would cause more than $2 billion in damage to the nation’s roads and bridges.”

NHTSA has had some weak areas, but then let’s do what we can to improve their ability to do what they were commissioned to do in 1966–not sabotage their efforts. In October 1966, Dr. William Haddon became the first administrator of the new federal safety agency.

“Haddon announced twenty-three proposed standards on November 29, 1966, at the Auto Industry Dinner held at the Detroit Automobile Show. . . Haddon began his speech by reminding the auto executives and others present of the ‘continuing national tragedy’ of nearly three times as many Americans dying ‘on our streets and highways,’ as have died in all America’s wars. ‘As civilized people,’ Haddon said, we can no longer tolerate these fatalities, ‘year after year, like a medieval plague beyond our power of influence.’ America must, he said, ‘manufacture safer automobiles.’

“The infant agency raced against the clock to issue new safety standards within about one year of its creation by early 1968. It was not an easy task. . . Haddon himself worked nights and weekends while building the structure of NHTSA and simultaneously writing the final safety standards. . .

“NHTSA’s twenty-three ‘final’ safety standards were drawn mostly from existing General Service Administration standards, from the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) voluntary ‘guides,’ and one–banning hubcaps that could become dangerous projectiles–based on a Swedish government standard. They were organized into three categories, paralleling Haddon’s original accident matrix: 100-level standards designed to prevent crashes from occurring; 200-level standards designed to reduce the likelihood of injury when crashes occurred; and 300-level standards designed to reduce the risk of injury after a crash occurred. They were issued on time.

“Once a federal standard was adopted it had real teeth. It became the law of the land and could not be ignored or offered only as an option by car makers selling motor vehicles in the United States. The scope of federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) started with the initial twenty-three, but it has expanded and now includes more than fifty major standards, covering passenger cars, pickup trucks, vans, SUVs, motorcycles, large trucks, buses, and school buses.

“The initial 1968 standards ranged from relatively modest changes such as uniform and visible labeling of dashboard controls, to ground-breaking rules, such as those requiring front seat shoulder harnesses and seat belts built to the GSA standard. There were standards that represented major improvements, such as common transmission shifting sequences (Park-Reverse-Neutral-Drive-Low), warning lights for braking system failures, improved exterior lighting, front seat head restraints, collapsible, energy-absorbing steering columns, and safer door latches.

“The first NHTSA standards were met with sharp criticism from automobile manufacturers. They derided them as ‘useless,’ ‘inadvisable,’ ‘illegal,’ and ‘impossible to meet.’. . .

“For the first time, the automobile industry was required to follow federal safety rules in the design of much of its cars. The standards established a base level of safety in automobiles sold to Americans. And they demonstrated that a federal agency could, if it was forceful enough, require automobile manufacturers to change their car designs to produce safer vehicles.” (Car Safety Wars; One Hundred Years of Technology, Politics, and Death, by Michael R. Lemov, pp. 115-116, 118)

Fortunately, these standards were made law and not voluntary standards,

“The House proposal gave the manufacturers the right to initially write voluntary standards before the federal government would have the chance and the heavy burden of showing that further action was necessary. Detroit should have grabbed the offer. Voluntary industry standards, in any industry, have the reputation of often being weak standards. They are enforceable only through publicity and public awareness, not by government action. The level of such voluntary standards, set by industry committees with limited public participation, can be that demanded by the weakest company, the one with the tightest profit margins. Voluntary standards are ‘consensus’ standards, based on agreement of all industry participants. In dealing with the lives and safety of so many people, safety standards, are, and were then, matters not of consensus but of public importance.” (Lemov, p. 94)

Just one example of this is the rear underride guard standard for tractor-trailers. The current standard is weak and ineffective and does not prevent many deadly underride crashes. The current rule was implemented in 1998 and, despite research to show that it needs to be strengthened, the industry has done little to voluntarily improve the situation. This is a matter of public importance and it is my sincere hope that industry and government can work together and not in opposition.

FMVSS No. 224:

Let’s not cave in to industry pressure at the price of compromising the safety of all who travel on the road. Let’s give them the authority and resources to do the job they were given to do. That includes the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) as well.

I, for one, am thankful and will do all I can to promote thorough research and informed decision-making. Saved lives are well worth the price.

Safety is not a priority 002

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