17 House Members Prod Federal Safety Agency to Issue Stronger Vehicle Safety Standards
WASHINGTON, D.C. --- Expressing concerns about vehicle rollover deaths and injuries, 17 Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives have sent a letter to the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to push for higher safety standards. The letter urges the federal agency to issue "strong and effective safety standards" as enacted in the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users" (SAFETEA-LU) in August 2005.The specific vehicle safety rulemakings include rollover, occupant ejection, roof strength and side impact protection. Congress members signing the letter called for the safety rules to be addressed in a "comprehensive fashion" by the agency, rather than as "stand-alone." Leading the oversight effort are several members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who championed enactment of these vehicle safety provisions in 2005. They include Bobby Rush (D-IL), chair of the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, and Mary Bono (R-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). Also signing the letter were Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Michael Castle (R-DE), Mike Doyle (D-PA), Jay Inslee (D-WA), Lois Capps (D-CA), Richard Neal (D-MA), Virgil Goode (R-VA), Jason Altmire (D-PA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), Gene Green (D-TX), Michael Arcuri (D-NY), and Paul Gillmor (R-OH).Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, commended the committee members for writing the letter to NHTSA. "It took bipartisan support to get these provisions enacted into law and it will take bipartisan action to ensure they meet the spirit and the letter of the law," she said. "This letter clearly signals to the agency that Congress is watching and waiting for effective safety rules that will save lives and prevent disabling injuries."Annually, over 10,500 people die on the nation's roads due to rollover. While rollover occurs in only about 3 percent of all crashes, it accounts for a third of all occupant deaths. Implementing a strong roof crush standard that takes into consideration occupant ejection, the letter states, will "prevent the failure of doors, windows and shoulder belts" during a rollover crash."Safety groups are discouraged that NHTSA is dramatically minimizing the life-saving potential of this rule," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen and former NHTSA administrator. "Proof of this is in the fact that many cars already meet the agency’s proposed rule. All of these vehicle rulemakings could save thousands of lives every year if done right. We have the technology, but NHTSA lacks the political will."Critics of the NHTSA's proposed rule, issued by the agency on July 15, 2005, say the rule is so weak that it will save only between 13 to 44 lives. Furthermore, they argue, the proposal continues to test roof strength using windshield and window glazing to provide support, even though in real-world crashes the windshield pops out and the glazing breaks. Congress also directed the agency to upgrade roof strength on both sides of the vehicle, but the proposal only requires testing on one side. Safety groups and safety technology suppliers worked together to support passage of the SAFETEA-LU provisions in 2005. "We applaud this bipartisan effort led by Representatives Bono and Rush," said Bob Hurley of the Enhanced Protective Glass Automotive Association. "This letter will send a strong signal to NHTSA that key members of Congress are working to ensure that the agency adopt performance standards that will result in important protections for the driving public. Enacting these provisions in SAFETEA-LU was the first step. In the months ahead, Congress must continue its oversight role so strongvehicle safety standards will be adopted on schedule."