Auto Safety Regulations: Are They Safe Enough for You?

Safety Inspection

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has often mandated improved safety features such as airbags for newly manufactured vehicles. Currently, the NHTSA is negotiating on the newest lineup of non-mandated safety features which includes automatic emergency braking systems, backup cameras, electronic stability control, ejection mitigation, occupant crash protection, and roof crush resistance. Despite clear evidence that such features reduce the severity of traffic accidents, not all auto manufacturers wish to voluntarily comply.

Fortunately, auto accident victims may legally compel non-compliant manufacturers to pay compensation for their injuries. If you are victimized in an auto accident, you will need competent legal representation to determine the cause, identify any potential defendants, and protect your rights.

The Safety Standards Debate

The NHTSA works with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and consumer advocate groups like the Center for Auto Safety when developing new auto safety standards. These agencies, along with consumers, may take advantage of public comment periods to push for stronger vehicle safety regulations that compel car manufacturer compliance.

At a time in history when the presidential administration is focused on the repeal of many vital federal regulations, independent, non-profit entities like the Center for Auto Safety play a crucial role. In fact, this organization has reported an increase in traffic accident fatalities during the period of 2015-2017, indicating a six percent increase in the sheer number of accidents as well as an increase in the fatality rate per 100 million miles. And while numerous factors impact these increases, few would argue that ever-stronger vehicle safety regulations are needed to ensure fewer car accidents and less severe outcomes when accidents do occur.

Are Regulations Enough to Prevent Auto Accidents?

Beyond efforts to positively influence federal policy, there remains one auto accident factor ever-present and impossible to regulate: driver behavior. A New York Times article published February 2017 (“U.S. Traffic Deaths Rise for a Second Straight Year”) quoted the executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association Jonathan Adkins who said, “…the same things…are killing drivers – belts, booze and speed.”

To this trifecta of poor driver behaviors, we must add a recent factor – cell phone usage. Talking, texting and using apps while operating a motor vehicle contribute significantly to auto accidents and fatalities. Termed “distracted driving”, the NHTSA states 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured by distracted driving in 2015. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety website explains that “many localities have enacted their own bans on cellphones or text messaging. In some but not all states, local jurisdictions need specific statutory authority to do so.”

The District of Columbia and 15 other states have banned talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving. Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have restricted novice drivers from using cell phones under any circumstances while driving, with Missouri taking it one step further, banning novice drivers from texting while driving. Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

Sadly, these stricter regulations alone are not enough to stop senseless injuries and deaths caused by distracted driving.

Common Safety Measures Still Ignored

Failing to wear a seat belt still reigns supreme in causing greater than 50% of all traffic-accident-related deaths in 2015. Despite campaigns and public safety announcements encouraging seat belt use, the CDC reports that 18 to 24-year-olds comprise the largest group of unbelted drivers involved in fatal alcohol-related crashes. Among these young adults, male drivers living in non-metropolitan locales and all drivers living in states with secondary enforcement laws wear their seat belts less often. Primary enforcement law states allow law enforcement to detain drivers only for seat belt violations whereas secondary enforcement law states require the police officer to first observe the driver committing a traffic offense before detaining and citing the driver for a seat belt offense.

Drunk driving and drug abuse account for nearly thirty percent of all traffic fatalities, according to The New York Times. Drug impairment has increased in the last several years as the opioid crisis has skyrocketed. From 1995 to 2015, driver fatalities caused by drug-impaired drivers surpassed those attributed to drunk drivers by more than seven times, according to The American Journal of Public Health. While strong focus on drunk driving must continue, more work is needed to shed light on the issue of drug-impaired drivers as an even greater threat to public health and safety.

Speed is yet another common but deadly driver behavior leading to car accident injuries and fatalities. Statistics provided by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) point to greater than 112,500 deaths due to speeding between 2005 and 2014, nearly on par with drunk driving deaths for the same period. Drivers tend to speed nearly three times more frequently on rural and local roads because automated speeding or photo enforcement programs are non-existent. However, a National Center for Biotechnology Information review of studies measuring the value of automated enforcement technology programs revealed fewer crashes following implementation of speed enforcement technology programs. Therefore, the NTSB encourages the setting and enforcement of stricter speeding laws across state, county, municipal, and other local governments.

If you are involved in an auto accident caused by failed safety features or reckless human behavior, speak with an experienced attorney in your state to learn about protecting your rights.