By on May 20, 2010

Yesterday’s Senate Committee On Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on the proposed Motor Vehicle Safety Act [full text of proposed Senate version S.3302 in PDF format here] was a surprisingly low-key affair. Discussion didn’t seem to move much beyond the battle lines drawn at House hearings two weeks ago. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland continued to argue passionately in favor of so-called “imminent hazard” powers, which are included in Henry Waxman’s House version of the bill, but not the Jay Rockefeller-sponsored Senate version. Meanwhile, debates over nearly every proposal in the legislation rage on, as the industry seeks to mitigate what it considers the bill’s most onerous and intrusive measures. But Strickland framed NHTSA’s mission in zero-tolerance terms: if one American dies on the road, he argued, NHTSA should be doing more to prevent it. This philosophy is underlined by the presence of hard-core safety advocates Joan Claybrook and Clarence Ditlow at nearly every DC hearing on auto safety since the Toyota recall. The flip side to this position is the argument that cars have literally never been safer, and that deaths per vehicle mile traveled are at all time lows. This yawning divide in perspectives towards automotive safety is begging for discussion, so let’s have it. Are cars safe enough? Which new regulations make sense, and which are more onerous than they’re worth? Where should the government define an acceptable number of roadway deaths? And are cars the problem, or are people?

Because this is a political topic, please make the extra effort to make your comment constructive. Complete prepared testimony from yesterday’s hearing can be found here.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

64 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: How Safe Is Safe Enough?...”


  • avatar
    john.fritz

    Memo to NHTSA: Please stop worrying about John Fritz and his car. John is a big boy and will worry about himself, thank you.

    Cars seem pretty safe to me. How about spending some time fixing the interstate system.

  • avatar
    radimus

    In a lot of ways, I think cars are getting TOO safe.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      +1

      People expect to be able to stop on a dime from any speed, go 1000mph, crash into a wall, and walk away. If they can’t, they want to sue somebody. Not EVERY accident is preventable/survivable. Deal with it, death is an inevitable part of life. We’re driving many more miles than in the past yet fewer people are dying, cars are already pretty damn safe. I agree with George B, (bellow) careful cost benefit analysis is necessary. I also agree with chuckR (bellow) that we need to put money into our infrastructure.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It depends.

      As noted, accident rates have been going down because we’ve been making cars “too safe”. If cars really were too safe, we’d see a large and growing number of non-fatal accidents as the result of inattention.

      But that’s not happening.

      We are always going to have bad drivers; making driving riskier in hopes they’ll drive better is not going to help them. Affixing a spike to the steering wheel didn’t work back in the 70s and earlier, when any accident was guaranteed to see you cored out by the steering column. Driving would have to be far, far riskier (akin to, eg, going to war) before people would take risk into account.

      Training doesn’t really work, either. You would have condition (not train, condition) at the level that professional race car drivers do. Training is good for things like “Who has the right of way at a four-way stop” or “How do I parallel park”; things that we do often and not under stress. Panic incidents don’t work like that; people fall back on instinct, or conditioning.

      The idea that we can train people to be better drivers, or punitatively coerce them evaluate risk by making driving riskier is awfully appealing to a certain personality type, but it doesn’t work.

      So what do you do?

      Improving safety becomes a matter of technology. We’ve already picked up the low-hanging fruit (seat belts, DRLs), and technology is making other advancements cheaper. Airbags are now a given as is ABS. ESC is becoming ubiquitous. Eventually we’ll see things like Mercedes’ PreSafe become commonplace, where your car measures the distance between you and the vehicle next to you and “prepares” you to stop more quickly than you normally might, or Volvo’s BLIS, which helps people who can’t seem to get the hang of shoulder checking.

      I’m sure that someone will learn an object lesson by not having PreSafe or BLIS, but I’d rather they not learn it by bashing my carr off the road at freeway speeds.

      Does all this stuff make cars less raw and require less absolute skill? Sure, but we already know that most drivers aren’t going to have that skill anyways. You may as well try and bring back bias-ply tires and four-wheel solid axles on the grounds that they made you “appreciate the machine” more.

      I think there’s more than a little machismo involved in saying “cars are too safe”.

    • 0 avatar
      dhanson865

      Cars are too safe.

      In the last 5 years I’ve been hit by inattentive/bad drivers twice. Twice the car I was driving was totaled by my insurance company, twice everyone involved in the accident walked away without a scratch.

      The first time a woman was driving a Sequoya (V8 SUV) down a center turn lane doing 40mph speaking on her cell phone looking to the left had 2 lanes empty to her left and didn’t bother to swerve instead of hitting my car as I sat there watching in disbelief. She only had to veer 5″ to the left at any point in space of 10+ car lengths to avoid the accident or come to a complete stop. For some reason she chose to do neither. She also was nice enough to tell me she had just gotten her vehicle out of the shop from a prior accident.

      The second time a man rear ended me as we pulled away from a red light. I was in the far right lane. This time there were 4 empty lanes open to our left (not a car beside us or within a mile of us on a 5 lane road). Since it was night time I couldn’t see the driver to know what he was looking at during the event but considering he never took his foot off the gas until after he hit my rear bumper I have to assume he thought he was in a drag race and forgot he was behind me not beside me. To this day I have no idea what he was thinking. He asked me why I didn’t accelerate to 45 mph within a few blocks travel. Said he looked up and was right on my bumper. I don’t know if he was staring at his tachometer or if he was texting and driving but whatever he was looking at it wasn’t the road. I don’t know what he was driving but it had doors that swung upwards (lambo kit doors) but looked more like a Chrysler 4 door in the styling to me. I’m not enough of a car guy to say I know what it was but I didn’t see a logo or name of any kind on the rear of the vehicle and it didn’t look like a traditional sports car or a high end make. I had a few minutes to look it over a few times and I didn’t find out what it was but I got the insurance info/license plate number and police/insurance took care of the rest.

      I swear when you are on a straight road with multiple lanes open you better have your head on a swivel and a foot ready to floor it to get out of the way of bad drivers.

      Anyway my point in all this rambling is twofold.

      1. People are apparently willing to drive at most any speed without watching to see who is in the lane they are traveling down. To me this is a sign that they feel invincible in their “car”.

      2. The fact that they walked away unharmed even after not avoiding an accident they had complete control over is reinforcing bad behavior.

      Though I have to say I’m glad I wasn’t hurt either time, I’d probably trade a few minor scrapes and bruises if it’d make people pay more attention when they drive.

  • avatar
    jet_silver

    George Orwell covers this in one of his “As I Please” essays, 8 November 1946, second paragraph of the linked article. I see nothing that invalidates his logic even sixty years on.

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    New safety features instigated by auto makers can draw customer demand as much as a cool GPS or audio system.

    As for Ditlow, Claybrook and Nader, their belief is that the vehicle best suited for drivers are those owned and operated by the govt. These vehicles are also known as buses, subways and light rail.

  • avatar
    George B

    I believe in careful cost/benefit analysis for any regulation. If anything we’ve probably made cars a little too heavy in an effort to improve their performance in crash tests, but research needs to be done to determine how much armor is required for good real world safety. I would look at requirements for systems that would help drivers avoid collisions like anti-lock brakes and stability control. Would also research the effect of reduced ability to see other cars due to high belt lines and thick pillars and possibly regulate the size of blind spots if metal blocking the driver’s field of view is a significant factor in car crashes. However, in the end it’s hard to make a car safe enough to compensate for bad driving.

  • avatar
    chuckR

    Make drivers safer. Don’t lower DUI limits, enforce them. Work with states to make drivers license testing more rigorous – the Feds have billion$ of carrots and sticks. I grant you that it is bad judgment rather than poor skill that more often is a cause of an accident, but a weed out of the klutzes couldn’t hurt. Cell phones – if caught using them while underway, confiscate them – fines to follow.

    Make roads safer and maintain them better. Our infrastructure is craptastic. Give some of the $ that NTHSA is grasping for to FHWA instead.

    Do not buy into the imminent hazard powers. Does NTHSA even have a means to discriminate between an allegation and a confirmed cause of accident/injury/death?

    This is another agency that is looking to extend it’s purview without doing the best job it can with what is already in it’s charter.

    I’m afraid that I am trending towards RAD-ical solutions. Repeal. Amend. Defund. There are, or ought to be, limits to the reach of government.

  • avatar
    msquare

    It’s the same reason we keep advancing the state of the art in medicine even though we ultimately can’t cheat death. If we resigned ourselves to it, life would still be nasty, brutish and short instead of a little less nasty, a little less brutish and somewhat longer.

    Compared to 1946, we’ve made exponential advances in safety to the point where much higher traffic volume is possible while still forcing down the number of traffic deaths.

    We may have reached a point, however, where we’re into diminishing returns emphasizing safety at all cost versus trying to make traffic move faster while maintaining current safety levels.

    Crippling traffic is a serious quality-of-life issue in many areas. How about we try and fix it?

  • avatar
    mythicalprogrammer

    Just make the law harsher. You DUI? You can never drive again. The GT-R have some kind of pedestrian safety I think that’s overboard. But I don’t think anyone can draw the line when idiots are driving. There was an incident where the mother was high and drunk and drove the wrong way with a couple kids in the van hit a car and killed everyone.

    Here we go:
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,536742,00.html
    Shrug, got it from google. I hate Fox News unless it’s Shepard Smith, “We are AMERICA! We do not f*cking torture!”

    We can try to ease traffic by promoting public transportation. By that I mean start building some bullet trains like those in Japan! Less car = less death perhaps?

  • avatar
    zigpenguin

    This is a common theme in economics. Often the first 90% of a gain in some metric (such as safety or environmental protection) is fairly cheap. Subsequent gains get more expensive as you go on. Eventually, the cost of the gains are higher than the benefits they provide. So, the only question is whether each new safety innovation is worth its cost in higher prices, higher weight, etc.

    In my view, NHTSA’s job is to be somewhat lagging in this calculation. To be mandated, the safety innovation must not only break even, but actually benefit society to a noticeably degree. As technology changes, the calculations change, so the NHTSA should be reevaluating its regulations every so often. The NHTSA should never be content to just stop looking because we reach a certain safety level.

    Why mandate safety technology at all? Quite simply because an individual’s actions affect people other than that individual. A person buys a car. Due to a lacking safety feature, the driver loses control and kills a pedestrian. The pedestrian had no ability to do anything to protect himself. The market certainly had no impact, because no one is thinking about the safety of some random pedestrian when buying a car.

    The whole “if one person died” thing is going too far. The NHTSA doesn’t have a job to prevent all road deaths. Otherwise, we just wouldn’t drive, because there is always some idiot on the road. The moment you make something idiot-proof, someone will come along with a new-and-improved idiot.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Joan Claybrook is responsible for the introduction of air-bags. When informed that air bags were killing children and old folks sitting in the front seat, she said why are you letting them sit in the front seat?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      That’s actually a really good point, and she was right to make it.

      Children and the elderly, or anyone with a compromised muscular or skeletal system, shouldn’t sit in the front seat.

      One of the aforementioned low-hanging fruit was dealing with the different types of passengers: up until relatively recently, every passenger was evaluated as a man of average stature. The special requirements of women, children and the elderly weren’t considered. This got us things like adjustable shoulder belts, telescoping steering wheels and SRS airbags.

      Child seats and their placement are an example of this: by having children sit in the rear, facing the rear, in a seat that allows limited movement, children who would have been paralyzed by abrupt head/neck movements (their neck isn’t nearly as strong as an adult’s) survive with maybe a few bruises.

      Claybrook may have taken that for granted, but I still see, as recent as this morning, people who put their rear-facing child seat in the front seat.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      During the initial debate over air bags in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, Claybrook was an advocate of air bags as the primary restraint system. She took the view that automakers needed to install air bags because drivers and front-seat passengers wouldn’t wear safety belts. There were people who warned that this approach would be dangerous, but she dismissed them as apologists for Detroit.

      The ignition interlock installed on vehicles for the 1974 model year was an attempt to reach a compromise on this issue. But drivers hated it so much that Congress hastily repealed the requirement in time for the 1975 model year.

      Of course, the critics were right. Air bags only became feasible when mandatory safety belt laws were enacted on a widespread basis.

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      It’s worse than that. Congress essentially mandated that airbags be effective as a passive safety device, meaning that it would cushion the passenger if he did nothing else for his/her own safety, like, oh, put on a seatbelt. This was against the advice of engineers in the auto biz, who of course were in on the corporate conspiracy to deny Americans the right to be safe in our cars. So they had to make an airbag that would stop a 150lb adult with NO seatbelt. Well, next thing you know kids are getting killed by airbags. Technology has finally caught up with us with the new weight sensing airbags.

      Here is one fantastic picture, I hope TTAC uses it sometime. The man in the pic I believe is Ralph Nader. But that’s not why this is a great pic. Take a look:
      http://www.airbagonoff.com/images/20000207pr01.jpg

      Geeber,

      The ignition interlock is an interesting story. GM, FORD, Chrysler, and AMC were divided about it. Two of them wanted the the engine to not start if your belt was not on. Iaccoca was one of them but I think he was at Ford then. The other two wanted a warning buzzer. The buzzer won out, but then people would just buckle the belt behind them (this was before the 3 point belt was in wide use). So instead we got the buzzer or chime that would sound for a few seconds and then go off. Some think Lee was against safety because of his initial resistance to airbags but he promoted a number of safety issues. Lee was initially against airbags not because he was against safety, but because he unsure about the technology.

  • avatar
    pauldun170

    I think cars should be as safe as the market demands, not as demanded federal regulation (as demanded by the Insurance insdustry).

    The governments position is that we should ride as passenger in an automated cocoon whose purpose is to deliver us safely and efficiently from point a to point b.
    Saves lives (aka saves the insurance industry from have to pay out on policies)

  • avatar
    rpol35

    The story written should be entitled, “Too Stupid at Any Speed”. Safety isn’t the issue with cars as much as the idiocy of many drivers is. Cellphone gabbing, texting, eating, reading, inebriated driving, red light running, tailgating and just plain old inate ignorance is the problem, not the safety design and construction of the vehicle.

    It is impossible to remove risk from the overt action of high speed movement in a car, plane, train, etc. Mitigate it?, Yes; Remove it? No.

    When drivers are better educated, as opposed to “trained” under the guise for what passes for driver’s education in this country and stop the selfish, destructive behaviors listed above we’ll all be a lot safer. Driving is not a right; the fact that an applicant can fog a mirror does not entitle that applicant to a license. (And I’ll be the first to admit that I am average at best.)

    Accountability starts and stops with each driver, it should never be placed in the hands of extremist nanny-staters like Waxman & Rockefeller!

  • avatar
    ccd1

    You cannot regulate stupidity and I have issues with paying for safety features required for people lacking any common sense. The most common driver fault I see every day is a failure to drive at speeds appropriate for the conditions, be they weather conditions or traffic conditions. The second most common fault I see are people speeding in craptastic cars or driving SUVs like they were sports cars. And let’s not even talk about texting and driving. Why should we even need to outlaw this??? Shouldn’t it be obvious that one cannot text and drive at the same time??? It’s not the cars, it’s the idiots behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    jacksonbart

    I think we need more warning labels. I mean how many people drive with their chest up to the air bag equipped steering wheel? How many people when thirsty might be tempted to drink motor oil cause it looks refreshing? Warning labels prevent trouble. How about a warning chime from every car, like “Welcome, drive me wrong and you might die, enjoy!”

    I am sure Nancy Pelosi’s government privided private jet has warning like “This is not a step”, “Watch your head”, “No Smoking”, “Fasten Seat belts”.

  • avatar
    davejay

    Now that we have side impact beams and airbags, I think they’re safe enough — but I won’t be happy until they find a way to give us the same safety we enjoy today, without all the blind spots caused by thick (and strong) A-pillars and airbags along the edges of the headliner. I want to drive a safe car that offers good 360-degree visibility, too.

    Oh, and rear-end crash test ratings would be good, too, considering it’s so common and completely out of control of the driver being hit.

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      Right on!

      I don’t how many times I have had an “Almost” driving a 2003 Durango because the A & B pillar look like they are thick enough for Sampson to have used them to hold up the Earth. For this reason alone, it is an inherently unsafe car to drive.

  • avatar
    geeber

    The problem is that the Joan Claybrooks and Clarence Ditlows of the world keep making the perfect the enemy of the good. We will never achieve perfection – zero deaths on our roads – no matter how hard we try.

    Making NHTSA responsible for preventing EVERY motor vehicle death is silly. If someone decides to jaywalk in front of car on a busy street (pedestrian deaths are counted in motor vehicle fatality statistics) and gets killed as a result, is it really NHTSA’s responsibility to prevent this from happening again?

    We’ve been striving for a lower the fatality rate on our highways for over 50 years, so we have a pretty good idea of what has worked.

    What works:

    *mandatory seat belt laws;
    *mandatory child restraint laws;
    *improved vehicle design (energy-absorbing steering columns, safety glass, padded dashboards, etc.);
    *stronger structures with crumple zones to better absorb impacts and make sure doors stay shut in an accident;
    *better safety belts and standard air bags;
    *better road design (more limited access highways, better designed intersections);
    *treating driving under the influence (DUI) as a serious offense, instead of as a laughing matter, or nothing to get worked up about because “everybody does it.”

    What doesn’t work:
    *lowering the blood alcohol content threshold for DUI from .10 to .08;
    *setting speed limits at artificially low levels (especially on limited access highways);
    *dumb federal regulations like the old 80 mph speedometer rule (the speedometer only had a top speed reading of 80 mph, regardless of the car’s capabilities, on the theory that this would discourage young hooligans from seeing “what’ll she do”).
    *banning radar detectors.

    What we need to do is…keep doing what we are doing. The fatality rate is at an all-time low, even as we drive more miles at ever-higher speeds. We also shouldn’t let our safety efforts be sidetracked by incidents like the Toyota unintended acceleration scare – which is as much about hysteria and blaming machines for our faults as it is about curing a real danger to the public.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      *lowering the blood alcohol content threshold for DUI from .10 to .08;

      I’ll agree with much of what you say, save this. Tests on reflexes show some impairment at 0.08, especially among certain groups (the young, the small). Judgement impairment is notable almost across the board at 0.08.

      Unfortunately, not everyone “can handle it” and it’s not currently possible for your car to do an assessment on your abilities when you get behind the wheel.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The studies that supposedly prove the effectiveness of the .08 BAC threshold for DUI in saving lives have been found to have serious flaws.

      Most people who drive drunk and kill someone – either themselves, a passenger, or another motorist – are hardcore alcholics. They can get in a vehicle, insert the key in the ignition, get the car started and in gear, and then drive it – while blowing a .20 or higher BAC.

      For most of us (at least, I hope), we would be passed out on the floor before we even reached that level of BAC.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      +1, Geeber. Your earlier statement was spot-on. The “safety lobby” wants to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Cars are immeasurably safer than they were 40 years ago. How much safer to they demand? It all comes at a cost. Another $500 for this and another $350 for that, and we have a Honda Fit selling for $22.5. Add the costs of the new milage regs and many people at the margin are priced out of a new car.
      I am not advocating going back to 1963 when there were no safety requirements at all. In February, my wife and I walked away from a 2 airbag towaway frontal crash in a 96 Odyssey. Nobody got teeth busted out by a steering wheel or driven through a windshield. The safety features worked on my 14 year old car. It’s easy to make safety more expensive, more complex or both. Why?
      We will not eliminate injury or death no matter what they do to the cars.

  • avatar
    carguy

    There are good ways to reduce the road toll and bad ways but we can all agree that making cars safer is a good idea. The fatality rate per mile drives has reduces to just a few percent of what it was in 1930 (when a staggering 5000 people died on the road even though very few cars existed). Even at 35K today our road toll is too high.

    The argument about what is effective and what is not is a valid one but no one can disagree that at no time we should stop attempting to improve the safety of our cars.

  • avatar
    jmo

    death is an inevitable part of life

    It’s not death that is so scary, it’s the lifetime of disability.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00029/IN4471288SYDNEY_-_JA_29773t.jpg

    When a drunk driver crosses the center line and the only thing between me and that chair is an extra 200lbs of steel – I’ll be thankful for the IIHS and Joan Claybrook.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      When a drunk driver crosses the center line and the only thing between me and that chair is an extra 200lbs of steel – I’ll be thankful for the IIHS and Joan Claybrook.

      Of course, the downside example is the harried mom driving a late model compact with 3 kids, one of which, a 10 year old, is in the front without a seat belt on. Random fender bender then causes kid decapitation, which seems bad to me, if not Joan Claybrook…

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      What is the breakdown of injuries prevented and injuries caused?

      Obviously, you have the stats to back up your bold assertion?

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      I’d like to think the burden of proof would be on those who push so hard for change in the name of safety.

      But practically speaking, there’s no way to do any sort of cost/benefit analysis of people saved/not-injured versus killed/harmed without a slog through mountains of data.

      Example: Is there any way to study if the reduction in visibility in current vehicles results in more injuries (due to an increase in the number of collisions) or fewer injuries (due to an increase in structural strength & safety equipment when a collision occurs)? There’s no way to find out.

      I do know there were warnings from the industry about 1st gen airbags because seat belt use wasn’t as prevalent.

      And then there’s the safety lobby’s almost universal tendency to focus on preventing injuries when an accident happens versus avoiding accidents in the 1st place.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      “Center Line” by Clatter

  • avatar
    Brian P

    My own opinion is that the move towards achieving the best possible crash protection scores is starting to compromise the ability of the driver to drive the car in certain ways; others have already mentioned the too-thick A-pillars and B-pillars, and too-high beltlines, that are impairing outward visibility in the interest of having better side-impact and roof-crush protection.

    It is also my view that in the long term, if mankind wants to have powered personal mobility, we cannot have two-tonne vehicles being used to transport one (maybe two) people at a time, no matter what source of energy is being used. From that point of view, the motorized bicycle or something close to it is probably a more sustainable solution, even if crash protection is completely the operator’s responsibility in those cases …

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      +1.
      The difference in visibility between my mom’s ’01 Camry and my sister’s ’09 is shocking. But the safety sheeple will insist that the ’09 is safer cuz it has a billion or so more airbags…

      My sister wants to dump the ’09 for something with more glass – but it’s tough to find something appropriate.

  • avatar
    OMG_Shoes

    I can’t help starting my comment with a side note: NHTSA needs to be dissolved/disbanded and the USA should just adopt the EU vehicle safety and emission standards used (and cooperatively developed, if I understand correctly) by the whole rest of the developed world and much of the developing world. It’s completely idiotic for us to be acting we know better than the whole, entire rest of the world on this. We’re not even the safest country, trafficwise, so it’s not even like we’re getting any benefit from this arrogant pretense that we’re still the most relevant market in the world. I seem to recall there was at least one TTAC feature on the subject but I can’t find it. Look at this, though.

    Now as for the question at hand, how safe is safe enough? It’s easy to see what inadequate regulation looks like; it looks like this. But what does “just enough regulation” look like? It’s demonstrably idiotic to claim that the free market will provide an adequate level of safety without any government regulation. We tried that. It didn’t work. But it’s equally idiotic to babble about “if it saves just one life“, etc. Everybody thinks it’s ghastly for there to be a dollar price on a human life, but there has to be when we are dealing with a matter like traffic safety.

    Seems to me we’re well into the realm of ridiculously small benefit/cost, and some of what’s being done now doesn’t appear to be carefully thought-through. Giant big roof pillars capable of supporting 10x the vehicle weight (or whatever it actually is)? Great, fine, it’ll prevent one rollover death per billion vehicle miles travelled, and how many pedestrian deaths will it cause because the driver’s line of sight was blocked by the pillars (and because he was yacking on a cell phone because we have completely useless “hands-free only” laws instead of what’s really needed, which is a flat ban on phoning while driving)? But even with that said, the cost/benefit requirements seem to be selectively applied and/or ignored at whim by NHTSA, which is an agency adept at political dancing and inept at carrying out its nominal mission.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      To be fair, the insurance industry and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing is pushing vehicle safety well past either the US or EU government safety standards. http://www.iihs.org/ratings/default.aspx Just try to sell a vehicle that passes government tests but does poorly in the IIHS test video.

      I would like to see US and EU test methods and standards harmonized where possible, but I’m not so sure it would be a good idea to make the standards identical. The automobile is an essential part of everyday life in the US, distance driven vs. time is high for the typical American driver, and we use lots of stoplight intersections vs. roundabouts. We have to worry about photochemical smog in hot summers and relatively high speed side impact crashes at intersections.

    • 0 avatar
      OMG_Shoes

      George B, I don’t want to get in a fight, so I’ll just ask that you take a broader look at the various activities of the Insurance Institute for Higher Surcharges. With that said, you almost kind of make my point for me when you say that various market forces are pushing on-road auto safety beyond US and/or EU minimum requirements, but don’t forget that market forces (e.g., minimally-compliant cars from China) are also dragging on-road auto safety down to (or below) the minimum requirement level. Food for thought, with a side order of Landwind.

      It looks like you’re making the common error of confusing “EU standards” with “Europe”. Yes, they originated in Europe, but they’re used literally all over the world except North America. They’re used in Australia, for example, which is extremely similar to North America in the ways that matter (heavily car-dependent, wide open spaces, long distances, high speeds, etc.) The problem with your kind of thinking is that it substitutes the hypothetical (“US standards are better because they require X,Y, and Z”) in place of the actual fact that other countries, where vehicles are EU-spec and road/traffic conditions are approximately similar to US conditions, have equal or better traffic safety than the US. In context of that reality, the hypothetical arguments in favor of the special-for-US-only standards just don’t hold any water.

      And what’s with your “photochemical smog” comment? Sounds like you think EU emission standards are lax? They are not, see here and spend a few minutes studying this plot of the various standards.

      But really, we’re chasing our tails arguing over whether the US or the EU standards make safer/cleaner cars. It’s completely obvious (per the real-world data) that the real reason why the US doggedly maintains its own standards has nothing to do with safety or pollution. It’s just a nice, convenient, sly way of maintaining tight, protectionist control over the US market while still being able to babble about how free and open our market is, because just lookit how we’ve done away with tariffs* and lookit all the free-trade pacts we’ve signed and stuff.

      *-Oops, um, pay no attention to the chicken tax behind the curtain.

  • avatar
    ccd1

    I would second OMG_Shoes recommendation: just adopt the EU rules. Less regulation and more trade. Win win

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Stick someone with an IQ of 70 in charge of a large, moving, 2 ton metal box capable of 70+mph and no matter what you do – someone will get hurt at some point.
    I’m all up for banning stupid people from driving and voting (and breeding), but thats not very democratic…

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      It’s no secret that people with higher IQ keep inseminating their wives at about 10% per generation.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Wait are you saying that only 10% have children in the higher IQ bracket? Or what does that statistic mean? Someone with an elevated IQ wants to know.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      10% of all children are not fathered by their “fathers”. And there is a significant bias that poor and dumb men are way more likely to be cuckolded than rich and smart men. (Sorry for the stereotype, but there is a strong correlation.)

      So, yes, people are doing something about stupid men. But it’s so slow that it’s hard to observe.

      I always thought this is a natural social mechanism that most government secretly encourages. Even in China, a traditionally conservative nation, adultery was never a crime during PRC’s reign.

  • avatar
    wsn

    With all that money spent, we don’t even have a published death rate by car brand/models.

    The best source I can find is a 2004 report by IIHS.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    There are strong differences of opinion regarding the dismal level driver of training and safety enforcement in the US.

    I’d like to see stronger enforcement combined with some stronger training. The sad bottom line is that Americans accept a great deal of vehicular death/injuries without any sort of concurrent personal responsibility.

    Note the famous cases of David Halberstam and Steven King. Until we’re willing to assign serious jail time to those who kill and maim others (and those who drive with revoked licenses), nothing will change. Consider how hard the law would come down on those two drivers had they been misusing a firearm, instead of a motor vehicle…

    I’d like to see the NHTSA or IIHS or Ditlow or Claybrook just once flap their gums once about an example like the above.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      That will work as well as requiring all drivers to have insurance, or to drive no faster than 65mph. It won’t. The car is just too important to American life. If someone can’t get their license because the test is hard, or they lost it for doing something stupid… they’re probably going to drive anyway.

      Engineers of all types would LOVE to force their customers to be smarter. No amount of wishing is going to make that happen. We will continue to design to the lowest common denominator… it’s the only realistic option.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” That is soooo correct!

    I think that we have two issues that are at the crux of the matter.
    A) Even more safety just isolated the driver further from “the driver experience”. This is to the detriment of all on the road. We’re seeing it now where there is a plethora of devices all used to used to attract and distract the driver from actually driving. Enough that we’re enacting laws in their use but if the actual driving part wasn’t so banal, this wouldn’t be happening.
    B) Interactions from the larding on of all these technological marvels in the name of safety. Most of the “passive” safety measures have been made. Now we’re going at it on an “active” basis and these things can interact in interesting ways. So much so, that the “safety devices” can case accidents that they were designed to avoid and it can only get worse.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Another thing:

    I find that these bills are hypocritical in the extreme. Somehow the auto corps have to develop “godview” to determine that any accident wasn’t a design flaw, a production error or a supplier manufacturing defect any time after the vehicle was produced or expect fines enough to destroy it. Given the tendency, especially the American, public to hysteria and scapegoating I don’t believe any good can come from this. It’s pandering and political grandstanding at its worst.

  • avatar
    obbop

    “Cars seem pretty safe to me too. How about spending some time fixing the drivers and licensing system in this country?”

    The above and other posts of a similar vein. Yes, yes a thousand times yes.

    But politicians must always ensure they are inoffensive as possible to the voters and, when needed, curtain bureaucrats and bureaucracies to ensure those entities do not affect voters in a manner that can come back to bite politicians with one frequent exception being if bureaucrat/bureaucratic actions lead to increased revenue that the politicians can use to their benefit, either personally or to assist their political aims.

  • avatar
    msquare

    One reason not to adopt Euro regulations is that we have been way ahead of them for decades. The USA was the first to regulate emissions, and we had catalysts in our cars 10 years before the Euros did. Remember cars like the Citroen 2CV and original Mini had to be pulled from the US market because the couldn’t meet safety standards.

    If you’re advocating syncing up our regs with theirs and other countries so everybody can make cars to the same standards worldwide, I’m all for it. It would greatly expand the choices available everywhere and give multinational manufacturers incredible flexibility addressing sudden market changes. How easy would it have been for Ford or GM to shift some Fiestas or Astras over here when gas spiked?

    Driving, by the way, is like voting. If you qualify, you can’t be denied either one. To vote, you have to live in the area you’re voting in, be 18 years old and register. To drive, you have to live in the issuing state, pass a written test and a road test. If you do, you cannot be denied a license because there are too many people applying in a certain year, for example. Privileges can be awarded or rescinded on a whim. A right cannot.

    Can your right to vote be taken away? If you try to vote twice, sure, and in many cases, if you commit a felony (something I don’t agree with, but that’s another debate). Same with driving. The right can be restricted if it is misused, and only via due process.

    So driving is a right, not a privilege.

    • 0 avatar
      OMG_Shoes

      Does it hurt when you jerk your knee like that? We live in the now, not in the day of the 2CV. In the here and now, US safety and emission regs are not “way ahead” of Euro/international ones, either in content (overall they’re just different, not better/worse) or in effect (read the ref links I provided above; in the here-and-now real world, US-spec cars don’t result in better traffic safety than Euro/international-spec cars). See also here and a great deal of data here.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    It has been said before, but bears repeating, that our attitude toward death is comparable to the Victorians’ attitude toward sex. Both attitudes are unhealthy and make our lives smaller and less rewarding than they should be. The safety zealots’ goal seems to be to have us all end our lives in nursing homes, minds destroyed by Alzheimers, sitting in puddles of our own waste.

    I worry that automobile regulations are only the beginning. There are many worthwhile recreational activities that are more hazardous than driving a modern automobile down the interstate at 80 mph. Some examples are mountain climbing, hiking and camping in the wilderness, skiing, shooting rapids in a canoe or kayak, private aviation, car and motorcycle racing, and horseback riding. After the safety zealots make driving no more rewarding than riding a bus, are they going to turn their attention to these activities?

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    I think all beginning drivers should be required to complete a year or two of motorcycle (nothing larger than 250cc though) ownership before being able to apply for a regular license. This will help remove the air of invincibility that young drivers have, delay them from being on the roads in wet/icy weather, and help thin out (kill) some of the stupid ones before they can gain access to bigger, more dangerous rides.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I miss my ’89 Cadillac Fleetwood (FWD model) and its low beltline, reasonably sized A-pillars, mirrors that did not obscure the side view, and light weight allowing low 20’s MPG and decent performance from a fairly low-tech engine with throttle body injection and crude electronics. 1989 was the last year before air bags became mandatory. Were 1989 cars deathtraps? Don’t think so. I would be happy with 1989 levels being the mandatory minimum. All of the other stuff ought to be available — if consumers want to pay for it. I’m not libertarian about a lot of things, but this is one of them.

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    @shoes,
    Your argument assumes the EU knows best.
    Since the US does not have a seat on the EU standards board, the US would be simply accepting whatever the EU standards were, mistakes and all. That’s idiotic as you like to say.

    Your scheme would have powers currently delegated by Congress to the US reg agency delegated to a foreign power, not legal and idiotic as you like to say.
    I can see from the self-loathing it makes you giddy to have the US subjugated to other countries but you’re playing to a small audience.

    We should study and learn from the ways of others but should adapt them to our particular conditions.
    You know, think globally but act locally.

    • 0 avatar
      OMG_Shoes

      FleetOfWheel, you’re ignorant. It is not necessary for a country to sign the 1958 Agreement which obligates reciprocal recognition of other countries’ approvals. A country can incorporate the EU regs (in whole or in part) into its own national vehicle requirement codes while maintaining autonomous national control. Usually the way this works is that EU type approvals of vehicles and parts are accepted as proof of compliance with whichever of the national regs have been aligned with the EU regs, but type approval itself is neither required nor sufficient; the country’s own national approval is still required for the vehicle to be sold in that country. National approval is easier and less costly to attain when it depends on compliance with standards widely used throughout the world, rather than on unique-to-one-market standards substantially out of line with international standards.

      On the other hand, signing the 1958 Agreement means having meaningful input (and voting power) into the development of the regulations, which is advantageous for countries with an exporting auto industry, not to mention representing a good application of a country’s research and engineering brainpower towards the betterment of vehicle safety and emissions performance worldwide.

  • avatar

    NHTSA mission needs to change. The “not one death” is absurd.

    I don’t want anyone to die on the roads any more than the next person, but we need to have some perspective here.

    There needs to be a cost/benefit for many of the rules they proposed. Further, I am getting really tired of the instrusiveness of the goverment in my cars. We can’t keep trying to engineer stupitdy out of the car for every.

    Furter, they really need to get out of law enforcement in my opinion especially after the fiasco that has become the photo enforcement scam!

    Trying to tell people with a straight face that RLC or speed cameras are about “safety” when the Vast majority of “violations” are techincal fouls, not safety ones.

    In RLC case they are: non dangerous right turns on red, stopping over the stop line, and split second mistakes that have a lot more to do with AMBER times being too short! Something you think a “safety” organization would start pushing! No, we are catching cities trying to keep those ambers as close to 3 second as possible since that is where the MONEY is!

  • avatar

    As the Brits are finding out with their government that’s out to kill Rodney King, via their newly-proposed “Film a cop, 10 years in jail” law and their War on Photography,

    You will always have to balance individual liberties on one side of the seesaw and “safety” or other type regulations/lawmaking on the other.

    I say cars are safe enough already, and let Darwin sort out the rest.

    The cost of a few deaths that come out via natural probability, genetic crapshoot, alcoholism, low IQ, or just pure testosterone is fair payment for the liberties we all enjoy.

    .
    If anything, all interventionism or human-supplanting should be Voluntary, Optional and Switchable.
    (ex: Yes, you can Choose whether or not to put your robo-enabled-car on the automated high-speed tracks, and get back/forth to work at 200mph; but autopilot is not mandatory elsewhere and all the time.)

    .
    .
    I just hope that the Commies, Greenies, Gores and Latter-Day-Hippies (+ O’Reillys, and Murdochs ,too btw) of the world are all taken with a big grain of salt and we don’t end up in a “Demolition Man” world.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    I think cars are safe enough, thank you. What NHTSA needs to focus on are better roads and licensing procedures. There needs to be a cost-benefit analysis before any more regulations are imposed…they need to get out of the photo enforcement scam which has very little to do with safety and virtually everything with raising additional revenue.

  • avatar
    dcdriver

    One of the reasons for distracted driving (cell phones, eating etc.) is b/c people are so busy nowadays and don’t have time to do everything they need to do each day. And a lot of this is because they’re spending too much time in traffic. Can’t get to the office on time b/c of traffic? What is the solution– you start working in your car– on your cell phone. Calling people, checking emails. If not for traffic maybe these calls/emails would be made in your office instead of in your car. Have to leave extra early b/c of traffic- therefore no time to eat breakfast or drink coffee at home so you take it with you and eat/drink it while driving.

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • 28-Cars-Later: Auto Nation: All your cash are belong to us.
  • 28-Cars-Later: -Could- you possibly tell me where Poison Ivy is hanging out these days?
  • Jeff S: Jackson and Perkins many years ago even named a variety of roses Chrysler Imperial. Imperial was once a name...
  • Jeff S: 40 mpg is good for any truck even if it is based on an Escape. A truck is not as aerodynamic as a car...
  • kcflyer: I thank you Tim for the story. I think I can learn something from it although I have never been on a track....

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber