New Report: Safety Laws Save Lives

Safety Report

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) today released a new report showing that federal and state auto safety laws enacted over the past 20 years have saved over 85,000 lives and over $600 billion in costs.

The auto safety group used the report, Advocacy for Safe Cars, Safe Driving and Safe Roads: 20 Years of Saving Lives and Reducing Costs from Traffic Crashes, to call on Congress to enact additional safety measures to reduce fatalities and bring costs down even further.

The report was released at a news conference at the National Press Club and included participation by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, business and government leaders, and individuals affected by car crashes.

"These dramatic findings, tens of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars saved, serve to underscore the need to act and act now," said Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates. "We can’t rest until America’s roadways are as safe as the skies."

The report, authored by Dr. Ted Miller at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, reviews a sample of federal and state laws enacted over the last 20 years with help from Advocates, and their impact on the reduction of highway deaths and injuries and mitigation of crash costs.

Among the laws reviewed are airbags, primary enforcement of seat belts, booster seats, motorcycle helmets, .08 maximum Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) and graduated teen licensing requirements.

The report also describes several legislative and regulatory initiatives in the past 20 years that have resulted in life and cost savings, such as electronic stability control (reduces single vehicle fatal crashes by 56%), side impact (estimated $567 million annual benefit), and reflective tape for better visibility of large trucks at night (8,000 side and rear underride crashes prevented annually).

"Motor vehicle crashes are one of the most devastating public health problems our society has ever faced," said Joan Claybrook, President Emeritus of Public Citizen and an Advocates Board Member. "When tens of thousands of people die every year and millions are injured in car and truck crashes, we have run out of excuses for not fixing the problem immediately."

In recent years, an average of 5.8 million crashes has occurred on our nation’s highways each year resulting in almost 40,000 fatalities and 2.3 million injuries, at a cost to society of an estimated $230 billion per year.

Every day 102 people are killed on America’s streets and highways, while more than 6,000 are injured, according to federal government statistics.

Bill Martin, Sr. Vice President of Farmers Insurance and an Advocates Board Member said, "Loss prevention is what we in the insurance community and the highway safety community, are all about. But we also have a moral responsibility to take aggressive action whenever and wherever possible to stem the decades-long tide of motor vehicle crash deaths and injuries that occur throughout the nation."

Advocates’ unfinished auto and highway safety agenda includes the following:

1) Close the gaps in state highway safety laws, making sure that every state enacts Advocates’ 15 basic laws (better seat belt use enforcement, all-rider motorcycle helmet laws, child booster seat laws, comprehensive graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws for teens, and impaired and distracted driving reforms);

2) Improve teen driver safety by enacting the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act (STANDUP Act) setting minimum standards for all state GDL laws;

3) Require DOT action on vehicle safety standards including vehicle crash compatibility, rollover crash dynamic test, better protection for pedestrians and children and improved seat belts;

4) Provide safer interstate motorcoach transportation by enacting the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act ;

5) Assure highway reauthorization legislation promotes tougher seat belt and impaired driving laws, and electronic on-board recorders on trucks and buses;

6) Prevent distracted driving by enacting the Distracted Driver Prevention Act of 2009 and the Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers Act, to promote state laws that prohibit text messaging and restrict cell phone use;

7) Enhance consumer protection by enacting the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 and a House companion measure, to address sudden unintended vehicle acceleration and strengthen the federal government’s ability to identify and address vehicle defects. Also enact the Consumer Auto Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 to improve collection of defect information and ensure privacy;

8) Promote highway safety and infrastructure investment by enacting the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act which will freeze the size and weight of large trucks on the National Highway System;

9) Require new vehicle safety standards to protect children by enhancing rearward visibility, and preventing power windows from causing death or injury;

10) Issue safer regulations for truck drivers to reduce fatigue and require behind-the-wheel training for new drivers; and

11) Achieve long-term, significant, and sustained reductions in highway deaths and injuries.

Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton, sponsor of his state’s strong teen driving laws, said the enactment of the STANDUP Act in Congress would be helpful in those states which have not progressed sufficiently in adopting key GDL laws.

"So we need to pass STANDUP, then stand back and watch all the states fall into line with excellent GDL laws," he said. "We owe it to our children, their children, and everyone who gets behind the wheel of a car from now on. This is what I was elected to do."

Terri Vaccher and her son Dominic from Fullerton, CA spoke at the National Press Club news conference. Ms. Vaccher survived a 1997 collision with a semi truck that pushed her SUV underneath the tractor trailer when she was eight months pregnant with Dominic.

She and her baby were saved by the airbag. "It has been thirteen years since that terrible day, thirteen years since an airbag made all the difference between life and death for me and my son," said Vaccher.

"I think of that day so often, and I stand here today because so many in this room fought to make airbags standard equipment in all cars."

Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Captain Tom Didone spoke of the crash in 2008 in which his 15-year-old son Ryan was killed in a crash with a high school classmate as the driver.

Captain Didone has spent most of his career in traffic law enforcement and is now an advocate for federal teen licensing restrictions.

"I know what a combustible situation it can be when you add newly-licensed teen drivers, and their passengers together," said Captain Didone.

"And, I know too what it is like to lose a child. Education and enforcement are key, but strong, uniform teen driving laws are the first step toward preventing crashes and saving lives." Didone made a plea for Congress to pass HR 1895 and S.3269, the STANDUP Act.

Another business leader participating in the report release today was Alan Maness, Associate General Counsel, State Farm Insurance Companies who said, "We look forward to future safety victories to further improve vehicle safety design, reduce drunk and distracted driving and enhance roadway safety design."

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is a coalition of insurance, consumer, health, safety and law enforcement organizations that work together to advance state and federal highway and vehicle safety laws, programs and policies.