The list of Congress-ordered safety rules continues to grow even in the midst of a rise in traffic fatalities from the coronavirus era.
Some of these safety rules are years overdue but could be the difference between life and death for many of the drivers on America’s roadways. According to a governor’s highway safety group, the United States is at the risk of having a “car crash epidemic” if some of these safety rules are not implemented soon.
At least 13 auto safety rules are currently past due and have remained so under the last three presidents, according to a review by the Associated Press regarding the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s rule-making. These rules include a rear seat belt reminder requirement that was initially passed by Congress in 2012 and that was set to be enforced by 2015.
The rear seat belt rule will now likely begin the regulatory process in January of 2022, although deadlines–even those assured by the federal court–have been missed frequently in the past. This seat belt rule is estimated to potentially save hundreds of lives annually.
Another rule yet to be passed is that of child car seats and their side-impact standards, which was originally expected to be passed back in 2014. Additionally, a rule requiring car manufacturers to keep safety defect records for at least a decade and to implement anti-ejection protection measures for large buses is still awaiting action.
“I think with safety records, companies shouldn’t dispose of things that can help determine the cause of injury or death,” said Levinson and Stefani’s Ken Levinson. “It can only help protect people down the road, so companies need to secure and maintain records that can be used to save lives–it seems obvious to me.”
Levinson also noted that so many of these things should just be common sense, and there shouldn’t be this much wait time in bringing them into regulation to keep people safe.
“The government shouldn’t have to require the maintaining of safety records, but clearly, companies aren’t saving these records for whatever reason, and it’s incumbent upon the government and other elected officials to make sure they keep these records to protect people in the future–women, children, men, and working people,” he said.
There are also plans in place to implement mandates regarding automatic emergency braking systems on both heavy trucks and passenger vehicles–NHTSA has promised that a national database documenting automated vehicle-related crashes is in the works, as are strict autonomous vehicle testing standards.
“Automatic emergency brakes are not that expensive, and they are able to save lives and should absolutely be required,” said Levinson. “Mandating them in new vehicles is a good thing for public safety and for all of us.”
In 2020, 38,680 people are estimated to have died in roadway crashes–the highest number since 2007. 8,730 additional people died in traffic crashes in the first quarter of 2021, which is a 10.5% increase from the same period in 2020 although overall vehicle miles driven dropped significantly during the pandemic.
Over half of all crash fatalities recorded in 2020 involved drivers or occupants who failed to wear a seat belt, and each year, over 800 people die in crashes when they have failed to wear a seat belt in the back seat.
Because of this, it’s clear that swift action in bringing these safety mandates to fruition can no longer be delayed.
“We all pay the price when injuries happen and when people fill up emergency rooms and ICUs in the hospital, especially when they’re taking up space for other people to be given proper medical treatment,” said Levinson. “Failure to mandate safety standards leads to rising healthcare costs, innocent people being harmed, a loss in productivity–there’s a number of reasons that are in the public interest to make sure that people are safe.”
Some states are indeed working to increase seat belt usage–Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut recently signed into effect a law requiring back-seat passengers over the age of 16 to wear a seat belt. Of course, passengers younger than 16 were already required to do so.
Still, we’re nowhere near where we should be in regards to federal safety standards, industry experts agree.
“I can’t say the U.S. regulator of the auto industry is at all on track,” said Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety president, Cathy Chase. “It’s time for them to move forward.”