Controversy surrounds the cost/benefit analysis undergone to determine whether a safety solution — proven to save lives — is cost effective. In other words, does the total cost to the industry required to implement the solution
the supposed number of lives saved (and by some formula the number of injuries prevented)
equal a $ figure
less than or equal to the Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) at that point in time [currently $9.6 million]?
If the cost is greater than that VSL, the safety countermeasure is deemed too costly and the rulemaking is ditched. In the case of underride protection, no mandate is thereafter issued to the industry requiring them to install equipment which could save lives.
Here is an example. Single Unit Trucks (SUTs) are not currently required to have rear underride guards which meet the same standard as for tractor-trailers. We petitioned NHTSA in May 2014 to require them. In response, NHTSA issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in July 2015. Their preliminary regulatory cost benefit analysis came to this conclusion (p. 26):
Guidance from the U.S. Department of Transportation identifies $9.1 million as the value of a statistical life (VSL) to be used for Department of Transportation analyses assessing the benefits of preventing fatalities for the base year of 2012. Per this guidance, VSL in 2014 is $9.2 million.
While not directly comparable, the preliminary estimates for rear impact guards on SUTs
(minimum of $106.7 million per equivalent lives saved) is a strong indicator that these systems will not be cost effective (current VSL $9.2 million).
Yet, here is an April 2017 fatality in Florida from an underride crash involving a Single Unit Truck: Crash kills 2 on I-75 in Bonita Springs
Apparently these lives were not worth saving.
Fairly soon after our crash, after a year or so of taking part in truck safety advocacy efforts, I became aware of the stranglehold which the cost/benefit analysis had on the likelihood of being able to get proven safety solutions actually required. That’s when I launched our Vision Zero Petition which got 20,000+ signatures. That’s when I also found that President Clinton’s Executive Order 12866 was what spelled out the specifications for that regulatory analysis for which the Office of Management & Budget had become the gatekeeper for safety regulations.
Many people made comments on the ANPRM for underride guards on Single Unit Trucks, as well as the NPRM for improved rear underride guards on tractor-trailers to the point that costs were overstated and benefits (saved lives) were understated. In fact, Lois Durso and I recently shared with many people on The Hill, as well as DOT, the proof that our two underride crashes were not even accurately listed as underride crashes with PCI (Passenger Compartment Intrusion) in the NHTSA FARS reports of truck crash fatalities. How many other underride deaths might also be inaccurately reported?
We are convinced that underride deaths are grossly undercounted. In fact, we would go so far as to say that every one of the 4,000 (on average) truck crash deaths each year should be considered an underride death unless otherwise proven (compared to the 200 to 600 annual deaths currently attributed to underride). After all, when a passenger vehicle collides with a large truck, it will be with some portion of that truck. If that part of the truck does not have any/adequate underride protection, then some degree of underride is, of course, likely to occur — which means that the truck is likely to intrude into the passenger occupant space. PCI then occurs with death and/or catastrophic injuries.
It is not necessarily the truck crash per se that causes the horrific deaths and injuries but rather the underride of the truck into the passenger occupant space. But this is not the current thinking in FARS data collection and regulatory analysis.
But even if we found a better way to report these deaths and every single one was included in the count, could someone find a loophole in the formula and still declare that comprehensive underride protection was not cost-effective and these lives were not worth saving?
When we were in DC a few weeks ago and met with DOT, I had a glimmer of hope because we were told that there had been recent discussions of the fact that the achievement of Zero Deaths in the airline industry was in stark contrast to the 35,000 annual deaths on the roadways. There was apparently realization that something had to be changed in how DOT is addressing this major public health problem — including the consideration of studying “near misses.” After all, DOT has publicly stated that their strategic plan is to move Toward Zero Deaths. I say, Let’s hold them to it!
Might we see a shift away from cost/benefit analysis that devalues human life to a cost-effectiveness approach that considers what is the most effective way (with the least cost) to save every life possible? What would it take to bring that about? Would President Trump be willing to sign an Executive Order authorizing Vision Zero Rulemaking?
If our truck crash had been less complicated — if I had rear-ended the tractor-trailer ahead of us instead of another truck hitting us and causing us to go backward into the tractor-trailer ahead of us — I would not be a truck crash survivor. I would have experienced Death by Underride and, quite likely — being in the back seat — AnnaLeah and Mary would have survived.
Mary would have lived to celebrate her 18th birthday today. She would have become an adult. She would have had the chance to live out her dreams and hopes. She would have continued to fill the world with her joie de vivre.
That is why I am unwilling to compromise and why I will continue to insist on underride protection that is comprehensive and effective to the fullest extent technologically possible in concert with the crashworthiness of cars. If that had been so on May 4, 2013, then AnnaLeah and I, along with our whole family, would have been able to wish Mary a very happy 18th birthday.