Our Little Safety Charade

March 3rd, 2008 at 5:57pm

As published by

Landwind Crash TestForty years ago the United States had the best traffic safety record of any country. Today, despite enacting the most stringent safety regulations in the world, we’ve dropped to 10th or 16th place depending how you measure. What’s going on?

Every year, like clockwork, there are 42,000 people killed in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. Several million more are injured, many of them badly. Our reaction to this problem is to write even more regulations. It’s not working.

Today the U.S. has mandatory seat belts, and air bags. We crash test cars from the front and off-set front, from both sides, and the rear. We crash test them at higher speeds than the law requires because safety advocates made sure that’s the defacto law. Automakers must publish how many “stars” their cars get in these crashes to get the public focused on safety. And right now there’s a big push to improve roof-crush safety. None of this will have much effect.

Take the roof crush standard. Safety advocates successfully forced the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to double the standard. Enormous technical efforts and scientific studies were thrown at this issue, which will end up making vehicles heavier and costlier. Safety advocates argue that roll-overs account for only 3 percent of accidents, but nearly 25 percent of fatalities—about 10,000 a year. Yet, when you dive into the details you find that the vast majority of those killed in roll-overs were ejected from the vehicle because they weren’t wearing a seat belt. NHTSA’s own analysis shows the new roof-crush standard might, maybe, possibly, hopefully save 476 lives a year.

The big difference between the United States and those countries which have a better safety record (Western Europe and Japan) is that they have stringent seat belt laws. They really force people to buckle up. Just as importantly, they have far fewer law suits against automakers.

Let’s face it, if you can pin the blame for a traffic fatality on an automaker, you can make a lot of money in the United States. It’s not that hard to swing a jury to favor a deceased plaintiff when their bereaved family is weeping in the courtroom—especially when the other side is a big corporation represented by company lawyers. But if you sue the driver at fault for not wearing a seat belt (or being drunk, asleep, careless or high), well, there’s not much money in that.

The result is the U.S. is stuck with a system that regularly enacts stricter safety regulations than anywhere else in the world at enormous cost, even though that system makes pitifully slow progress in reducing traffic fatalities and injuries.

We pretend to protect the citizenry with stricter laws and multi-million dollar lawsuits, while other countries produce better results without going through this entire charade. Yes, a charade. With tens of thousands of lives at stake every year I feel very comfortable calling it what it is.

3 Comments to “Our Little Safety Charade”

  1. Dan Says:

    Is the accident rate up from 40 years ago when compared to the amount of people driving then to today. I would guess that it is. There has been great progress in the automotive world and at the same time there has been very little progress.

    I wonder what the accident statistics are for people who drive manual trans. compared to people who drive auto. trans. in the US compared to people in Europe. With all the distractions being offered in a new car (DVD screens, multi functioning radio/GPS/phone/camera/G force indicators/ect..) that go along with all the distractions going on outside of the car (other drivers) you would think that this would play a huge role in the growing rate in accidents/deaths on the road.

    We know there are problems, but what are the solutions, and how do we implement them?

  2. Tom Martin Says:

    I believe that the difference in data deals with major differences between the US and the world infrastructure. Far more people outside the US can walk to a pub or grocery store. In the US, most of us need to drive. In addition, public transportation and biking is far more popular outside the US.

    I commute 32 miles each way to work. That’s pretty common in the Washington, DC area. My boss commutes 86 miles each way. I believe it’s less common to commute this far in Europe or Japan in your car.

    GM is slightly to blame because in the early 20th Century, GM bought public transportation systems, mainly trolleys, and decommissioned them to force Americans to buy cars.

    But now in the 21st Century, it’s difficult to change how we live. There’ll never be a bar, grocery store, or employment opportunity within 3 miles of where I currently live.

  3. Tim Hilliard Says:

    Of course, regulation, regulation, regulation. Its just another form of taxation, because the just like the ‘stuff’ coming from the regulators, ‘stuff’ slides down hill and we are on the bottom so we pay, we pay for the new regulations and the fuel penalties.

    1978 Ford Fairmont weighed about 2600 lbs. and got about 30mpg. Build that car today it would weigh 4000lbs. We’ve come a long way in 30 years????

    People can’t seem to grasp how third world cars get such good mileage. If we learned to drive we could have safe cars and mpg.

    Cars are like guns, people make them dangerous.