Stuck In Neutral

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September 16, 1999


Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) is an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America's roads safer. Advocates encourages the adoption of federal and state laws, policies and programs that save lives and reduce injuries. By joining its resources with others, Advocates helps build coalitions to increase participation of a wide array of groups in public policy initiatives which advance highway and auto safety.

Advocates was founded in 1989 by the heads of a number of major property and casualty insurance companies and several prominent consumer and safety leaders. These two communities share virtually identical goals on highway and auto safety issues.

This Report is being distributed on the 10th anniversary of the establishment of Advocates. Throughout the ten years during which Advocates has worked on safety issues affecting the vehicle, the driver, and the highway, important safety concerns have been addressed related to occupant protection, vehicle crashworthiness and crash avoidance, impaired driving, red light running, speeding, highway safety issues including intersection safety and highway design, as well as issues affecting consumer protection and information. On these and numerous other issues, Advocates has played a dynamic role in developing legislative and regulatory policies at both the state and federal levels of government, expanding public understanding of auto and highway safety issues, and encouraging coalition efforts to further reduce the devastating human and economic costs of death and injury on the nation's roadways.


This Report is the work product of Advocates. The Report presents the views and recommendations of Advocates on many but not all of the major safety issues that are facing the nation today or that will confront society in the near future. More detailed discussions of a number of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are attached as an appendix to the Report. For more information about any particular safety issue contact Advocates.

The Report generally relies on data contained in the Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and as reported in Traffic Safety Facts 1997 NHTSA (Nov. 1998), and on public information and studies published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) as well as other organizations. Except as otherwise noted, final statistics for calendar year 1997 are relied on because the 1998 FARS data was released too late to be included in the Report. Specific references and citations are available from Advocates.

This report was prepared by the staff of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Advocates wishes to express sincere gratitude to Amy Buckler, Kimberly Peterson and Brendan Gill for their contributions to the Report.


This Report, Stuck In Neutral: Recommendations for Shifting The Highway And Auto Safety Agenda Into High Gear, is an assessment of both current and future safety needs at the crossroads of two centuries. The premise of this Report is that with over 40,000 deaths a year, and more than 3,000,000 cumulative recorded traffic fatalities, as well as millions of serious injuries every year, there is a pressing need to renew and revitalize efforts and actions to address this most severe public health epidemic.

The Report provides analyses and discussion of 35 of the most prominent safety issues organized in sections according to the fundamental principles of motor vehicle fatality and injury causation propounded by Dr. William Haddon, who served as the first administrator of the federal highway safety agency. In keeping with the categories of the "Haddon Matrix," safety countermeasures, including legislative and regulatory reforms, that address pre-crash (crash avoidance), crash (crashworthiness), and post-crash safety are divided into those issues that involve vehicle design and equipment, driver behavior or, more generally, human factors, and the highway environment.

In the Introduction, the Report begins with a discussion of the safety successes of the last decade. The approaches used to improve traffic safety include a mix of state and federal actions. The combination of the enactment of a state or federal safety law, in conjunction with a public education campaign and serious enforcement efforts has repeatedly proven to be a successful safety strategy. Youth advocacy efforts can be included as an emerging method for developing strong safety activists and improving safety policies.

Safety improvements have been achieved on a wide variety of issues, but they have not met with success in all areas of concern. While new laws addressing driver and occupant behavior have been enacted, variation among laws, gaps in coverage, and lack of uniform enforcement have blunted the overall safety impact of such laws. In addition, many people believe that federal regulation of passenger and commercial vehicles is no longer essential. The Report emphasizes that not only does federal regulation of passenger and commercial vehicles remain a critical area in which safety performance must be upgraded and new standards established, but that the American public overwhelmingly wants such action by its government. A set of discussion papers on necessary upgrades to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards , included as Appendix B, stresses the need to revise vehicle safety performance standards to provide state-of-the-art crashworthiness and crash avoidance protection.

The Report's Introduction also discusses the demographic facts of life that population changes will increase the numbers and percentage of both teenage and older drivers. Since both of these age groups present special auto and traffic safety issues and needs, the Report attempts to point out where and how safety policies can and should address those needs. The Report provides recommendations based on current law and knowledge that will better prepare the nation to address these crucial safety issues.

The Report also makes the case that the public continues to espouse high levels of support for actions that advance vehicle and highway safety. Three polls conducted by Louis Harris on highway safety-related issues, including one released in conjunction with the Report , indicate that the American public wants and expects vehicles and highways to be as safe as reasonably possible. The overwhelming public support is especially true for the important role that federal performance standards play in assuring the public that high levels of safety are standard in every passenger vehicle sold in America.

The body of the Report discusses the major safety issues facing the nation, but by no means attempts to address every important existing and prospective safety concern. The Report provides an agenda for the critical safety issues that must be faced in the immediate future.

Areas of particular concern that require concerted action include increased safety belt use, drunk driving, teenage driving, intersection safety, truck-related fatalities, rollover crashes and excessive speed.

The over 80 recommendations in the Report lay out a detailed blueprint for specific ways to improve auto and highway safety. Issue by issue, the Report makes the case that to meet safety expectations and to provide a reasonable level of safety protection, much more can and must be done by policymakers in this nation. Not only must legislators and regulators respond to current safety issues, but pressing concerns based on demographic realities, emerging trends and new technologies must be met if motor vehicle travel in the next 20 years is to be at least as safe, if not safer, than the past 20 years.




NHTSA must revise and upgrade existing motor vehicle safety standards to establish a new generation of safety standards that will meet the needs of modern vehicles.


  • NHTSA must issue a final rule on advanced air bag systems that includes performance requirements that protect: children and other out-of-position occupants in low speed crashes, unbelted occupants in high speed crashes, and all occupants against neck, head and chest injuries;
  • NHTSA should require that safety belt systems include pre-tensioners and load limiters as standard equipment;
  • NHTSA should require improved protection against intrusion that causes leg, foot and ankle injuries;
  • NHTSA should provide more funding for research and development of improved crash and occupant sensors;
  • NHTSA should increase the speed required for frontal crash tests and consider adding an offset frontal crash test.


  • NHTSA should develop safety countermeasures to improve front end and side impact energy management in smaller vehicles;
  • NHTSA should develop approaches to modulate the height, weight, and general aggressive character of large vans, pickups, and SUVs;
  • NHTSA should require improved active and passive occupant restraint systems in cars.


  • NHTSA should establish a new stability performance standard for vehicles under real-world operating conditions;
  • NHTSA should require improved padding on vehicle interiors;
  • NHTSA should upgrade the current standard for door latch/hinge performance;
  • NHTSA should require innovative anti-ejection glazing;
  • NHTSA should upgrade the roof crush standard;
  • NHTSA should develop and provide consumers with comparative information on vehicle rollover.


  • NHTSA should upgrade the roof crush standard to include performance requirements that control general roof failure and localized roof intrusion;
  • NHTSA should upgrade the roof crush standard to require a dynamic crash test that reflects real-world crash experience.


  • NHTSA should upgrade side impact protection performance requirements;
  • NHTSA should upgrade side impact test requirements for light trucks and vans;
  • NHTSA should develop approaches to modulate the height, weight, and general aggressive character of large vans, pickups, and SUVs;
  • FHWA should require placement of protective barriers and crash cushions where appropriate on federal-aid highways;
  • FHWA should require retrofit for breakaway poles, light supports and other highway appurtenances on federal-aid highways.


  • NHTSA should upgrade standard to include state-of-the-art performance requirements;
  • NHTSA should include performance requirements to increase restraint height and to reduce distance between back of occupant's head and the head restraint.


  • NHTSA should expand the scope of the child restraint system standard to children who weigh 80 pounds;
  • NHTSA should establish minimum safety requirements for child booster seats and belt-adjusting devices;
  • NHTSA should develop a child test dummy representative of a 10-year-old child;
  • NHTSA should require that child restraints be dynamically tested.


  • NHTSA should require on-board crash recorders in all passenger vehicles and establish minimum requirements for data collection;
  • NHTSA should require appropriate data on crash mode and severity be linked to automatic crash notification systems;
  • FHWA should require on-board commercial vehicle technologies which help to accurately verify commercial driver hours of service compliance.


  • NHTSA and FHWA should make ACN a transportation safety priority;
  • NHTSA and FHWA should dedicate greater resources and more funding for ACN development and testing;
  • ACN technology should be required standard equipment on all passenger vehicles.


  • NHTSA should establish a vehicle safety standard to improve protection for pedestrians struck by vehicles;
  • NHTSA should include performance requirements that provide for less rigid parts on passenger vehicle fronts ends and that require safer distances between the vehicle hood and engine parts.


  • NHTSA should require performance standards which could significantly reduce the propensity for rollover including requirements for lower center of gravity, improved suspension systems, wider wheelbases and revised design principles for cargo units, including tank trailers;
  • NHTSA should develop performance requirements that improve the ability of trailers to respond to curves and quick steering movements without becoming unstable;
  • FHWA should require reasonable operational restrictions for multi-unit combinations that restrict tractor-trailers from operating on facilities not designed to accommodate vehicles of that size.


  • NHTSA should require performance standards in commercial motor vehicles to reduce the time needed to actuate the brake drums in order to induce the installation of brake-by-wire braking systems.


  • NHTSA, which has jurisdiction over newly manufactured trucks and buses, should upgrade performance requirements for truck and bus lighting systems;
  • NHTSA should require improved conspicuity treatment for single-unit trucks;
  • NHTSA should require improved mirror and electronic vehicle detection systems for trucks and buses;
  • NHTSA should improve requirements for rear impact guards to make them lower and more energy-absorbing and extend these requirements to single-unit trucks;
  • NHTSA should require side impact guards to prevent side underride of large trucks and trailers by passenger vehicles;
  • NHTSA should adopt performance requirements that reduce front end "aggressivity" of bus and truck cab designs;
  • FHWA, which has jurisdiction over the on-road operation of trucks and buses, should require the retrofit of improved truck rear impact guards to make them lower and more energy-absorbing;
  • FHWA should require the retrofit of side impact guards to prevent side underride of large trucks and trailers by passenger vehicles.


  • Congress should extend the current federal weight limit of 80,000 pounds, and the length limit of 53 feet, on the Interstate Highway System to the National Highway System;
  • Congress should continue the freeze on longer combination vehicles (LCVs);
  • Congress should not enact special interest exemptions that permit trucks to exceed current federal gross and axle weight limits;
  • States should not permit increased weight limits on state and local roads and streets.



  • Congress should require uniform adoption in every state of standard enforcement of safety belt use laws or face the loss of federal-aid highway funds;
  • States should enact and vigorously enforce standard enforcement of safety belt use laws.


  • States should immediately act to close the gaps in child restraint laws;
  • States should extend mandatory safety belt use laws to all occupants, regardless of age, to all seating positions, and in all circumstances.


  • Congress should require that states enact all-rider motorcycle helmet laws or face the loss of federal-aid highway funds;
  • States that do not have an all-rider motorcycle helmet law should enact such a law;
  • States that do have all-rider motorcycle helmet law should oppose any efforts to repeal or weaken those laws.


  • States should enact or upgrade bicycle safety laws to require all-rider helmet use;
  • States should conduct education programs for bicyclists and those that share the road with bicycles;
  • States should plan for roadway infrastructure and trail improvements to better accommodate bicycles.


  • States should enact laws to prohibit passenger use of the rear cargo bed of pickup trucks under all circumstances.


  • Congress should require that states enact .08% BAC as the legal limit for imposing criminal sanctions for drunk driving offenses or face the loss of federal aid highway funds;
  • States that have a legal limit of .10% BAC should adopt .08% BAC as their legal limit for drunk driving offenses.


  • States should expeditiously enact repeat offender laws that comply with or exceed the requirements of federal law.


  • States should enact laws that comply with or exceed the federal minimum requirements for laws to prohibit the transportation of open containers of alcoholic beverages.


  • States should adopt ALR laws that provide for immediate license revocation.


  • States need to adopt measures that will keep repeat offenders off the road, including v ehicle immobilization, forfeiture and use of interlock devices as additional penalties for impaired driving.


  • FHWA should revise current hours of service regulations to increase truck and bus driver off-duty rest time, to protect that off-duty time against interruption and to prohibit any increase in driving time beyond 10 hours;
  • FHWA should require the use of automated vehicle tracking and recordation of commercial driver duty time;
  • NHTSA should develop a sustained public education effort to advise the public of the dangers of fatigued driving;
  • States should enact state graduated licensing laws that limit the ability of teenage drivers to drive during late night hours.


  • States should enact enabling laws that permit the use of photo-enforcement systems, authorize enforcement agencies to cite red light violators by mail, and place responsibility for the violation on the vehicle owner.


  • States should reduce speed limits on roads and highways that demonstrate an increase in crashes, fatalities or injuries;
  • States should effectively enforce all posted speed limits on all roadways;
  • States should improve the driving safety, highway design, traffic control devices and remove roadside obstacles on highways posted at 65 mph or higher in order to provide greater safety for vehicles that run off the road at high speeds;
  • Congress should require states to submit appropriate data on vehicle speed and speed-related crashes to NHTSA.


  • States should adopt three-tier graduated licensing systems for teenage drivers.


  • States should explore reasonable graduated licensing systems for older drivers that incorporate individual evaluations of driver performance based on consideration of driving skills rather than chronological age alone.


  • NHTSA should develop human factors criteria and determine needs for driver attention;
  • NHTSA should regulate the proliferation of in-vehicle displays;
  • NHTSA should regulate the proliferation of other in-vehicle technology that can divert driver attention.


  • FHWA should develop a uniform set of human factors criteria which specify "design drivers" governing highway geometric design and traffic engineering standards.



  • States should enact legislation that enables localities to install photo radar;
  • FHWA and the states should revise the existing practices for traffic control devices to permit longer phasing for pedestrian signals to enable safer pedestrian crossing on high volume roadways;
  • FHWA should emphasize the need for state and local governments to provide safer intersections for vehicles and pedestrians through better design, improved traffic control measures and, where warranted, rehabilitation or reconstruction of intersections.


  • FHWA should evaluate and revise the standards for temporary traffic control in highway work zones, especially for driver decision sight distance, temporary alignment, and cross-section design features contained in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) , to provide a safer operating environment for vehicles on roads undergoing reconstruction and maintenance;
  • FHWA should also revise the MUTCD sections on pedestrian and worker safety given the unnecessary pedestrian deaths and injuries that occur in highway and street work zones, and the very high fatality rate for construction workers;
  • FHWA also needs to require the states to report work zone injury and fatal crash data with appropriate measures of exposure in order to determine whether specific traffic control practices and other safety countermeasures have measurable benefits.


  • FHWA should require the use of state-of-the-art engineering standards on the National Highway System and Federal-aid Highways;
  • FHWA should issue standards, not just guidelines, to regulate geometric design on highways constructed with federal funding.


  • FHWA needs to establish specific standards for barriers and impact attenuators that can reduce the severity of heavy vehicle roadside crashes and to require the use of these improved safety designs as a condition of receiving federal assistance for highway reconstruction and rehabilitation.


  • FHWA should establish standards with minimum levels of brightness for traffic signs;
  • FHWA should amend current standards to require one inch of letter height on signs for every 40 feet of viewing distance.





Where We Are Now: Safety Accomplishments of The Past Ten Years iii

Where We Are Going: Future Trends in Safety v

1. An Aging Driving Population vi

2. Expansion of the Teenage Driving Population vii

3. "New" Safety Issues viii

How We Will Get There: Public Support for Effective Safety Approaches ix

















  • APPENDIX A: Listing of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) 67
  • APPENDIX B: "Discussion Papers" On Major FMVSS 72
  • APPENDIX C: State Law Chart 95



This Report on the current status and future of highway and auto safety issues relies to a great extent on fundamental principles established by Dr. William Haddon. A full appreciation of both the methodological approach and the particular safety countermeasures addressed in this Report requires some understanding of the epidemiological context in which safety researchers and advocates work. This forward attempts to briefly explain that context and provide some basic insight into the systematic approach used by the safety community.

Dr. William Haddon, Jr., the first administrator of NHTSA, revolutionized highway safety when he discarded the fragmented attempts at regulating highway safety and replaced them with a coherent framework within which safety efforts could be organized. Dr. Haddon recognized that the focus on driver behaviors alone was not sufficient to prevent or reduce injuries, and that other factors had to be considered.

The achievement of the Haddon Matrix was the demonstration of the dynamic intersection of the three major sub-systems comprising vehicle operation and crash production - the driver, the vehicle, and the highway - with the time line of crash causation composed of pre-event conditions, the crash event itself, and the injury consequences of the crash once it had occurred (post-event). The Haddon Matrix is usually depicted as follows:


Within each cell of the matrix it was possible to identify factors that contributed to a crash or could have prevented a crash to determine the causation of injuries and fatalities. Doctor Haddon used the premise that most motor vehicle injuries and fatalities are preventable events.

However, when prevention fails in some cases, the next order of business is to reduce crash severity and the incidence of injuries and fatalities in crashes that occur. Finally, the post-crash cell addresses actions and interventions that reduce post-crash safety problems such as vehicle fires, and the response of emergency medical services which is crucial to the amelioration of both the acute and long-term consequences of the injuries sustained in the crashes.

The Haddon Matrix also pointed the way for use of "systems engineering" as the controlling philosophy for reducing crashes and preventing or lessening injuries even when crashes take place. By approaching traffic safety problems through system engineering, designers and regulators can take into account the interactions of human behavior, the design of the vehicle both for crash avoidance as well as for occupant protection, and the need to design highways to be "forgiving" operating environments where driver errors should not result in deaths and serious injuries.

This Report revisits the Haddon Matrix and reexamines the highway and auto safety issues within the familiar categories of the vehicle, human factors (drivers, occupants, and pedestrians), and the highway (roadside environment). Vehicle crash avoidance and crashworthiness, although much improved since the early 1970s, still have serious deficiencies. As to human factors, it is clear that driver errors still occur for a wide variety of reasons, the result of inadequate attention to both vehicle and highway design. Lastly, highway design failures continue to plague traffic safety. Both inadequate geometric designs and traffic engineering measures still create dangerous opportunities for driver mistakes and serious injuries and deaths are the tragic result.


Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates ) was founded ten years ago to actively press for policy solutions that reduce motor vehicle crashes and the resultant deaths and injuries that occur on our nation's highways. The need for this effort is self evident. Since the introduction of the automobile in the United States, motor vehicle crashes have claimed over 3 million lives on U.S. roadways with uncounted hundreds of millions of serious and minor injuries. The accumulated death toll on our roads far surpasses the loss of American lives in all the wars and battles this nation has ever fought. Moreover, traffic and highway crashes continually take a toll of over 40,000 lives, incurs hundreds of thousands serious physical injuries and head trauma, and costs society more than $150 billion in medical and related costs each and every year.

As an organization, Advocates has a decade of experience in highway and auto safety and brings to those issues a wealth of information and institutional knowledge. This Report reflects this knowledge and is presented as a means of focusing attention on the existing and emerging safety issues that will lead America into the 21st century. Not all of the safety problems that faced the nation 30 years ago have been solved and new threats to public safety have developed. It is time to take stock, reevaluate the safety challenges and take action.

This Report will document the safety problems that confront the nation and discuss the areas that still have not been properly addressed by safety standards and other countermeasures. The report recommends solutions based on what Advocates and other safety experts know will work. Experience has shown that one effective strategy that brings about behavioral changes that improve safety is to motivate people to alter their individual actions by enacting strong laws backed by public education and committed enforcement. Equally important is the resolve and determined political will of regulators, policy makers and elected leaders who have the responsibility of setting and enforcing highway and auto safety standards. Implementing the recommendations in this Report will lead to even greater advances in public safety on American highways at a time when fatality and injury rates have plateaued.

As Advocates celebrates the accomplishments achieved over the last ten years, we also look forward to the next century and recognize the challenges that an increasingly mobile society will encounter. This Report will elaborate on the safety challenges, old, new, and emerging and provides a blueprint for the future safety agenda of America. The agenda includes new and improved performance standards for vehicles, better protection of occupants and pedestrians and safety countermeasures in the highway environment.

Where We Are Now: Safety Accomplishments of The Past Ten Years

When Advocates was founded in 1989, 45,582 people died and approximately 3,284,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes on American highways that year. The preliminary data from the Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for 1998 reveals that in the past decade there has been an overall nine percent reduction in annual fatalities since 1989 (41,480) and a more modest one percent reduction in injuries since 1989 (3,251,000). During this period, annual fatalities reached a record low in 1992 (39,250), falling below 40,000 for the first time since 1962 (38,980), but have been on the increase in the last six years. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has dropped from 2.2 in 1989 to 1.6 in 1997 and 1998. The decrease in the fatality rate is part of an historic trend and the result of many factors. The fatality rate, however, has leveled off in recent years after having reached 1.7 in 1992. Despite the fact that VMT has increased from 2,096 billion to 2,618 billion in the past decade, and a number of safety setbacks have taken place, there has been some progress in certain areas of highway safety.

Achievements in safety policy have been accomplished over many years because of the combined efforts of numerous individuals and organizations. In the last decade, advances in a number of areas of highway and auto safety were pursued at both federal and state government levels.

At the federal level, enactment of major safety legislation has improved the quality of people's lives by providing a greater degree of safety. For example, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) required the installation of dual front air bags in all new passenger vehicles. To date, air bags have been estimated to have saved more than 4,000 lives. The National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 (NHS ) required all states to enact "zero tolerance" blood alcohol concentration laws for underage drivers. However, that legislation also repealed the National Maximum Speed Limit law enacted in 1974. Enactment of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1998 encompassed a number of key safety provisions including a schedule for the introduction of advanced air bag systems and requirements that states enact minimum penalties for repeat offenders and prohibit possession of open alcoholic beverage containers.

Among the states, success can be measured in the adoption of important safety legislation. A summary of certain highway safety laws adopted by states is included in Appendix C. As of August of 1999:

  • 50 states and the District of Columbia have zero tolerance laws, prohibiting any impairment while driving by persons under the age of 21;
  • 49 states (all except New Hampshire) and the District of Columbia have mandatory seat belt use laws for adults, although only 16 states and the District of Columbia provide for standard enforcement of their seat belt law;
  • 40 states and the District of Columbia have administrative license revocation (ALR) laws;
  • 24 states and the District of Columbia have laws mandating that all children under the age of 16, in all seating positions and under all circumstances, be restrained by either a safety belt or child restraint;
  • 23 states have a full graduated driver licensing system in place for teenage drivers, and ten additional states have partial systems which contain either a mandatory holding period for a learner's permit or night driving restrictions once licensed;
  • 21 states and the District of Columbia have all-rider motorcycle helmet laws of which nineteen have defended their laws against significant attempts at repeal;
  • 17 states and the District of Columbia have a maximum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% BAC;
  • 16 states and the District of Columbia have standard safety belt enforcement, and use rates in standard enforcement states are 17 percentage points higher than in states with secondary enforcement;
  • 12 states and the District of Columbia have laws, demonstration projects or pilot programs that use red light running photo enforcement to reduce intersection violations.

At the regulatory level some progress has also been achieved. The initial Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) were issued in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In large measure, these safety standards are responsible for the general level of vehicle and occupant safety. The current FMVSS and related regulations administered by NHTSA are listed in Appendix A of this Report. A number of these standards have been revised and the core safety requirements have been extended to light trucks and vans. However, the existing FMVSS do not cover all aspects of safety performance and occupant protection and a number of new vehicle safety standards need to be established, especially given the changes in the vehicle fleet in recent years. Furthermore, many of the safety standards have not been significantly updated since they were first adopted and are in dire need of upgrading and revision to reflect state-of-the-art engineering and safety practices. A series of discussion papers on the need to establish new standards and to revise and upgrade existing standards is presented in Appendix B of this Report.

On another regulatory front, there has been little progress on improving the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) , which govern commercial truck and bus operations. These regulations, many of which were originally developed by the now-defunct Interstate Commerce Commission in the 1930s and 1940s, are the responsibility of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Safety advances in this area have been quite limited, and the existing safety regulations have not been effectively administered or enforced. As a result, progress on advancing greater truck and bus safety has been slow and difficult to achieve in the past decade.

Recent recognition by auto manufacturers that "safety sells," and that consumers are willing to pay for greater personal safety, has also contributed to advancing safety. If consumers are provided with accurate and reliable safety information, they can and will make choices based on safety concerns.

Where We Are Going: Future Trends in Safety

While there have been substantial advances in the field of highway and auto safety, there is still much work to be done and new challenges to confront. Upgraded and expanded motor vehicle and motor carrier safety standards remain an important concern. In addition, traffic safety will have to meet challenges posed by changes in technology (in-vehicle applications), business practices (just-in-time delivery), lifestyles (night-time and shift work), and population demographics. Since 1975, the number of licensed female drivers has increased and has nearly reached parity with the number of licensed male drivers. In the future, it is also expected that greater access to mobility will also spur an increase in the percentage of disabled drivers. The two most important areas which require particular attention are the population trends that inevitably and dramatically will increase the numbers of older and younger (teenage) drivers on American highways, two groups that are overrepresented in motor vehicle fatality statistics.

1. An Aging Driving Population (Click HERE for Graphic Chart)

In general, a larger percentage of the American population is living longer than ever before. At the beginning of the 20th century, when motor vehicles were getting a foothold in society, life expectancy was only 46 years. Now, at the close of the century, life expectancy has reached 76 years. Demographers refer to this as the "squaring" of the aging pyramid and it has major implications for our country's social policies, including how the U.S. responds to important topics of public health and safety.

Currently, there are about 25 million people in the U.S. who are 70 years of age and older, representing almost 10 percent of the population. Even more startling, U.S. census data show that this age group grew at more than double the rate of the rest of our population over the last decade. This trend will continue as the "Baby Boom" generation begins to reach retirement age in 2010. By the year 2020, the U.S. will have over 40 million people who are 70 years of age or older, and about 50 million who are 65 or older.

These figures must be considered in light of the fatality statistics involving older people. Drivers age 75 years and older have fatality rates above the national average. The fatality rate for drivers 85 years and over is nine times higher than for drivers 25 through 69 years old, based on estimated annual travel. In fact, while people age 70 and older comprised 9 percent of the nation's population in 1997, they were involved traffic in 14 percent of traffic fatalities, 13 percent of occupant fatalities, and 17 percent of pedestrian fatalities. This indicates that older populations, above age 70, in general are overrepresented in traffic fatalities.

Personal mobility in passenger vehicles has produced an all-time high in the number of licensed drivers over 70 years of age - currently about 18 million - and many more older citizens regularly or occasionally rely on personal transportation as passengers in cars or light trucks. As this segment of the population increases it will be necessary to address and, where possible, accommodate the inevitable changes which occur in health and functioning associated with ageing. As people enter their 70s, 80s, and, nowadays, even their 90s, age or illness can compromise physical abilities and lead to reductions in functional capacity, which can adversely impact motor skills, cognition, attentiveness or alertness, and dexterity. Everyone experiences certain decreased capabilities as they get older, such as longer perception-reaction time, decreased peripheral vision, increased sensitivity to glare, and more limited torso flexibility and range of limb and neck motion. While persons of all ages are subject to such concerns, the process of aging itself often compromises one or more functions that are necessary to the driving task. Functional changes occur at different times and to different degrees for every individual, but are increasingly likely with advancing age.

It also should be stressed that most of these physical decrements also lead to increased vulnerability of older persons to serious injuries when involved in a crash as a driver, passenger or pedestrian. In addition, riding in or driving a passenger vehicle produces specific risks for older people which need to be addressed by highway and street designers, traffic engineers, motor vehicle manufacturers, and government regulators.

As a result, whether as driver or occupant, older people have specific needs which, unfortunately, are largely not being met with today's roadways and cars. Numerous highway design features and traffic control devices are not only inadequate for the general driving population, but critically fail to respond to the specific capabilities of older drivers. Similarly, passenger vehicles are designed, tested, and marketed primarily to meet the driving and occupant protection needs of far younger drivers and passengers.

2. Expansion of the Teenage Driving Population (Click HERE for Graphic Chart)

Even as America experiences dramatic growth in the older driving population, it will also see steady increases in the number of teenage drivers on our roads. As the children of the Baby Boom generation, or the "Baby Boom Echo" as they are often called, reach driving age more teenagers than ever before will be behind the wheel. The teenage driving population, on an upswing since 1993, will continue to grow so that by 2010 there will be 23 percent more 15 to 20 year-old drivers than there were in 1995. This increase in population is expected to be matched by a similar increase in teenage traffic fatalities. Data show that teenaged drivers are overrepresented in motor vehicle crashes, far exceeding their percentage among licensed drivers. Even though teenagers as a group tend to drive fewer miles per year than other age groups, they are involved in 3 times as many fatal crashes as are all drivers. Not surprisingly, motor vehicle deaths are the leading cause of fatalities for young people 15 to 20 years of age.

There are a number of factors that contribute to this situation. While younger drivers tend to have good eye sight, reflexes and hand-eye coordination, they frequently lack experience and good judgment, especially behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. In addition, they have a greater propensity to engage in risky behavior compared to other age groups. Teenage drivers are less likely than adults to perceive danger and more likely to commit driving errors that lead to a crash. Teenage drivers are also more likely to be involved in a single vehicle crash due to speeding, driving recklessly, or over-compensating during sudden maneuvers. Finally, teenagers are statistically less likely to be wearing their safety belts either as drivers or occupants of motor vehicles. These factors all contribute to teenage drivers having the highest crash rate of all age groups of drivers.

3. "New" Safety Issues

In addition to population trends which will require new approaches and safety countermeasures, other trends are developing that deserve attention. These new safety issues include the phenomenon of aggressive driving, the production of smaller and lighter low-speed vehicles (such as golf cars and neighborhood electrical vehicles), and the development of intelligent vehicle technology.

Aggressive driving usually refers to traffic infractions such as speeding, tailgating, following too closely, unsignaled lane changes and similar offenses often committed in combination with each other. While the term "aggressive driving" has been applied in recent years as a unique phenomenon, it is essentially a modern twist on well known poor driving practices. States already have laws and regulations that deal with the underlying traffic violations. To the extent that aggressive driving as a new safety issue is based on the malicious intent of drivers, some law enforcement agencies have begun special monitoring programs to identify aggressive driving behavior. Enforcement efforts are frequently combined with driver education and public information efforts, including courteous driving campaigns, in an attempt to reduce the incidence of aggressive driving.

The use of smaller, lighter non-traditional vehicles for local transportation on public highways is a safety issue that is only beginning to take shape. Recent actions by several states and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) now permit the use of low-speed vehicles such as golf cars on public highways along with passenger cars, light trucks, vans, and commercial motor vehicles. At present, the number of vehicles in this class are small, and the on-road use is limited. In the future, as the older driving population increases and a new generation of small, light vehicles, including neighborhood electric vehicles, are developed and marketed, these vehicles may present a new safety issue regarding the compatibility of the vehicle fleet on American highways.

Finally, the development of intelligent vehicles, which is supposed to provide greater safety through crash prevention, or crash avoidance, remains on the safety horizon. It is unlikely that intelligent vehicle technology will ever bring about large reductions in crashes and fatalities. Most of the ideas referred to as intelligent vehicle systems either have no safety component or rely on sophisticated technology that has not been proven practical for safety applications in mass production vehicles. The Report does address a few good ideas that involve technological solutions and in-vehicle communications, such as more advanced crash and occupant sensors, safety technology for commercial motor vehicles, and automated crash notification. These ideas rely on existing technology and have practical applications that are likely to have safety benefits. In addition, the Report discusses the disadvantage of increasing technology, the potential for driver distraction from an overload of in-vehicle technology.

How We Will Get There: Public Support for Effective Safety Approaches

The experience of the past decade makes it clear that different safety issues require varying approaches. In general, however, the combination of safety laws, explained through public education and information campaigns, which are coupled to committed enforcement efforts provides the best possible atmosphere for public acceptance and observance of safety measures. As part of this mix, Advocates is spearheading attempts to develop a burgeoning youth advocacy movement in which young citizens speak out on safety issues on their own behalf, while learning how government works.

In any event, it is evident that there must be a mixture of efforts at both the state and federal levels of government. A number of safety problems can only be tackled through state intervention and through state and local law enforcement. However, traffic safety is also a national concern that affects public health across the nation. Frequently, however, safety countermeasures are not dependent on local conditions but need to be addressed in a uniform manner regardless of political boundaries, especially in regard to issues of public health and safety.

The public has long supported the need to adopt national solutions to deal with national problems The American people have continually supported state and federal legislation and regulation aimed at improving highway and auto safety in order to achieve a greater degree of personal safety for themselves and their loved ones.

On three separate occasions, Advocates has commissioned the national pollster, Louis Harris, to conduct surveys of the American public's opinions on a range of highway and auto safety topics. The results were released in May 1996 , April 1998 , and September, 1999 , contemporaneous with the issuance of this Report. The polls reveal that the public has a continuing and growing interest in the safety of highways and vehicles, as well as a strong resolve that there be a heightened government presence to ensure safe cars and roads.

The 1999 Louis Harris poll reflects the largest support yet for a strong federal presence in safety matters including highway and auto safety. A record 93 percent of respondents said that it is "important" for the federal government to be concerned about uniform safety standards. This continues the trend of increasing support for federal activity to ensure uniform safety standards. In the 1998 poll 89 percent of respondents thought this was an "important" federal responsibility, and in the 1996 poll 85 percent of respondents called the federal presence "important." While more people think that federal safety standards are important today compared to three years ago, a constant percentage believe that such a federal role is "very important." There was no erosion in support among the 61 percent of the population, or six out of ten respondents, who deemed federal safety regulations to be "very important" between the 1999 and 1996 polls. In response to a question in the 1998 poll, public supported more federal funding for auto safety by a margin of 77 to 21 percent. .

The 1999 poll also inquired about the need to revise or renew the safety standards that regulate motor vehicles. More than two-thirds of the respondents, 69 percent, agreed that it is time to set new auto safety standards. Only 25 percent thought that the existing motor vehicle safety standards were sufficient. In light of the changes in fleet mix, vehicle design, technology and equipment it is understandable that the public would express a desire for the issuance of up-to-date vehicle safety standards. Toward this goal, Advocates has provided in depth discussion papers, in Appendix B of this Report, regarding the need to establish several new motor vehicle safety standards and the improvements required to upgrade the level of safety provided by a number of the existing safety standards.

In the 1999 poll, the public also expressed overwhelming concern about other key auto and highway safety issues. For example, 85 percent of those polled want more attention paid to intersection safety problems, including making intersections safer for pedestrians, with over half of all respondents (57 percent) saying that much more attention should be given to this safety issue. In a related question, over two-thirds of those responding said that "somewhat more" (39 percent) or "much more" (31 percent) attention is needed for intersection safety improvements. In addition, three-quarters of Americans, 74 percent, identified red light running as a safety problem and favored the use of red light cameras, automated photographic technology, to reduce the incidence of red light running by drivers.

On other safety concerns included in the poll, more than four of five persons asked (81 percent) supported the mandatory installation of technology to improve truck safety including the use of so-called "black box" data recorders and technology to provide warnings to truck drivers when they are getting tired. Widespread support was also found for more frequent license testing of younger and older drivers. Among those polled, 72 percent supported more frequent license tests for younger drivers, and 83 percent for older drivers. Significantly, 69 percent of respondents ages 18 to 29 supported more frequent license tests for younger drivers, and 80 percent of respondents aged 65 and over supported more frequent license tests for older drivers.

In a number of surveys, and in the two earlier polls conducted by Louis Harris for Advocates, the public expressed strong opinions about federal regulation of underage drinking and impaired driving. Seventy-eight percent of adults surveyed opposed any effort to roll back the legal drinking age from 21 years of age. A decisive majority of 91 percent favored uniform laws mandating that teenage drivers who test positive for any alcohol are subject to immediate revocation of their driver's license and are subject to strong penalties for driving under the influence. As of spring 1998, this desire of the public became a reality. All states currently have zero tolerance laws under which any driver under the age of 21 may not have greater than a 0.02 percent BAC. Similar action must be taken in other highway safety areas in which there is such sweeping public support and need for a policy response.

Another such area with overwhelming public support is the realm of child restraint laws. An impressive 90 percent of adult respondents believed that "all people driving children, whether they are related to the children or not, should be made responsible for ensuring that the children are properly belted in." Americans responded that they favored stronger enforcement of child safety laws that require all children to be buckled up. Eighty-four percent of adult respondents favor making it mandatory for states to require that all children traveling in vehicles operated by anyone, not just their parents, no matter where the children are riding must be buckled in child safety seats.

These results emphasize that the American public wants and expects the federal government to continue to assure high levels of safety in the vehicles we drive and the roads we travel. It is clear that where necessary, the public assumes that strong safety measures have be taken and that adequate safety standards exist. These and other public opinion surveys, as well as the desire of American consumers to purchase vehicles built with greater levels of safety, is a call for action that simply cannot be ignored. The public would like to see strong federal regulation of car safety standards, large truck safety, safe highways, laws mandating safety belt use and availability of consumer information. On other issues, the public desires an active state presence to protect child passengers, ensure the use of seat belts by older children and adults, and in setting reasonable speed limits and controlling excessive speed on highways.

The determination of which measures are effective and should be pursued must be the result of a systematic analysis of the interactions between vehicles, occupants, and the roadside environment. In the forward to this Report, we briefly set out the basic philosophy of prevention in highway and vehicle design and mentioned how an integrated policy approach called "systems engineering" is needed to form an interconnected set of design and performance characteristics for both roads and vehicles that directly responds to the needs of promoting safer driving and increasing occupant protection when crashes occur.

Broad public concern for highway safety, rapidly changing driver demographics, unacceptably high fatalities and injuries each year and, at times, government inertia in pressing for substantial progress, require a review of the unfinished highway safety agenda and a road map for advancing safety in the 21st century. The following Report is Advocates' assessment of the highway and auto safety issues that need attention and action in our effort to reduce traffic deaths and injuries. The most valuable lens through which to view the entire driving environment is the Haddon Matrix which integrates the need for prevention in transportation decision-making with the concept of systems engineering. For this reason, Advocates' relies on the Haddon Matrix as the basic outline for our analysis. By using a systems engineering approach, the Report reviews and recommends safety strategies dealing with the vehicle, the occupant, and the roadway environment.




Passenger vehicle safety is separated into three major areas in accordance with the Haddon Matrix: pre-crash safety performance, often called crash avoidance, protection of vehicle occupants when crashes occur, usually referred to as crashworthiness, and post-crash integrity of the vehicle and emergency response in the event of a crash.

Crash avoidance standards and designs address a number of vehicle operating systems, some of which are often taken for granted as direct contributors to the safe operation of a car or light truck. For example, windshields and side windows near the driver must be able to transmit sufficient light day and night to ensure adequate visibility, and driver controls and displays need to be easy to locate and use, and provide a clear and uniform message that assist drivers and ensure consistently safe vehicle operation.

A number of important vehicle crash avoidance standards are overdue for revision. Advances in technological capabilities or new information showing the inadequacies of certain designs and their performance have not been accommodated quickly enough. As a result, many benefits of safe operation through crash prevention have been denied to the motoring public. Some of these standards will be reviewed in the sections that follow.

Similarly, passenger vehicle crashworthiness standards have also lagged in many respects even though research and crash data over the past several years clearly have shown the need to revise and upgrade major standards for the prevention of serious injuries and deaths to car and light truck occupants. This Report will address important crash safety performance issues that are overdue for attention. Many of the FMVSS have not been significantly revised since first adopted thirty years ago. In the case of both crash avoidance and crashworthiness, a more detailed treatment of the major policy and safety issues pertaining to the federal motor vehicle safety standards are provided as an appendix to this Report.

Post-crash issues include vehicle integrity as well as the response of emergency medical services and hospital care. The latter has long been left to the domain of individual, local emergency response units. Recent technological and other developments are improving the role that post-crash intervention can play in saving lives and reducing injuries. The addition of automatic crash notification would improve emergency response time that would greatly benefit the medical outcomes for crash victims.


Performance requirements for crash avoidance and crashworthiness features of motor vehicles are contained in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) , which govern most major safety systems in cars, pickups, and vans. The FMVSS are issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and each standard is categorized based on the Haddon Matrix and whether the standard provides pre-crash, crash, or post-crash protection. While the FMVSS are the backbone of American passenger vehicle safety, they do not cover all aspects of vehicle safety. Moreover, many of the standards in the FMVSS were issued early in the history of NHTSA and while some have been updated over the ensuing 30 years, others remain in need of major revision.

Many of the original standards were issued by the agency based upon prevailing motor vehicle manufacturer industry voluntary standards in order to quickly achieve regulation of new vehicle safety design and performance. The initial FMVSS reflected engineering and safety practices prevalent in the 1960s. Unfortunately, some standards have languished for many years without appropriate revisions and others been either proposed for adoption or amendment without success. In a number of other instances, significant areas of vehicle safety design and performance are unregulated, leaving the quality of either crash avoidance or crashworthiness to the discretion of motor vehicle manufacturers.

In the following sections, this report will briefly review major motor vehicle safety standards which need to be improved or newly established. More detailed analyses of the issues related to each of the major FMVSS standards which require upgrading are contained in the appendix to this Report.


NHTSA must revise and upgrade existing motor vehicle safety standards to establish a new generation of safety standards that will meet the needs of modern vehicles.


Air bags have proven to be a key occupant safety device which can minimize or eliminate head, face, and chest injuries in high speed motor vehicle crashes. Air bags are 31 percent effective in reducing fatalities in frontal crashes and they are estimated to have saved more than 4,000 people to date, mostly unbelted occupants. Teenage and young male drivers who do not buckle up are primary beneficiaries of air bags. About a third or more of all occupants still do not wear safety belts and for them air bags are the main method of occupant protection.

However, air bags also provide safety protection for belted occupants. In combination with lap/shoulder safety belts, air bags are 75 percent effective in preventing serious head injury and 66 percent effective in preventing serious chest injury. This safety record could be improved if safety belts were equipped with pre-tensioners and load limiters as standard equipment. These devices would improve safety belt performance when interacting with air bags. This would be particularly beneficial to older people who suffer broken bones more readily than other occupants. Air bags are now required for front seat occupants in all new passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. because of their great safety potential-- it is estimated that 3,000 lives could be saved each year when all passenger vehicles are air bag equipped.

Nevertheless, air bags have been responsible for more than 140 deaths, mostly to children and shorter adults. These losses have occurred primarily in low speed crashes where an air bag deployment was not required to save lives. Many of the children killed were not sitting back against the seat and were considered to be "out-of-position." Many of the adult drivers were sitting too close to the steering column and the air bag. All but a few of the people killed by air bags were either unbelted or improperly belted.

Interim action has been taken to reduce the power of air bag deployments. Safety considerations for children and out-of-position occupants necessitate that air bags do not deploy, or do not harm occupants if they are deployed, in low speed crashes, while still deploying fast enough to ensure occupant protection in high speed crashes. NHTSA is presently considering a proposed rule to set performance standards for advanced air bags and is trying to determine what tests are needed to ensure that air bags perform as intended. The air bag requirements need to be upgraded to include various crash test dummy sizes, both belted and unbelted, that are tested in a variety of positions and at various speeds in crashes into a fixed barrier. Performance requirements are also needed to ensure that air bag technology protects all size occupants in real world crash conditions.

Vehicle sensors must also be capable of properly determining that a crash is severe enough to deploy the air bags, and that determination must be made early enough in the crash to allow for a safe deployment. In the future, sensors will be required that determine the characteristics of the occupant and the crash and which can instantly fine tune the air bag deployment based on both these factors.

Because air bags and safety belt are saving lives and reducing the probability of serious head and chest injuries, more people survive crashes with other injuries, especially broken legs and ankles. These type of injuries are generally less severe for most of the population but present serious injuries for older occupants. In order to reduce or prevent these injuries, greater protection from intrusion must be provided to the vehicle occupant compartment. This can be done by testing vehicle designs against intrusion and at higher impact speeds. A higher speed frontal crash test and a high speed offset frontal crash test should be considered and eventually adopted to ensure greater occupant protection in high speed crashes.


NHTSA must issue a final rule on advanced air bag systems that includes performance requirements that protect:

children and other out-of-position occupants in low speed crashes;

unbelted occupants in high speed crashes;

all occupants against neck, head and chest injuries;

NHTSA should require that safety belt systems include pre-tensioners and load limiters as standard equipment;

NHTSA should require improved protection against intrusion that causes leg, foot and ankle injuries;

NHTSA should provide more funding for research and development of improved crash and occupant sensors;

NHTSA should increase the speed required for frontal crash tests and consider adding an offset frontal crash test.


An important aspect of both crash avoidance and crashworthiness designs and performance is the controlled, predictable interaction of vehicles prior to and during collisions. Each passenger vehicle shares the road with other vehicles, and compatible operation is crucial to securing high levels of resulting traffic safety and crash protection.

For crash avoidance operations, for example, headlamp designs are critically important not only for providing sufficient illumination to drivers to see the road and traffic control devices such as signs and pavement markings, but also to supply necessary light without generating disabling glare for other drivers. Similarly, strategic placement of marker and tail lamps are needed so that other drivers can easily detect other vehicles in the vicinity. Other systems that govern crash avoidance maneuvering, such as brakes which must perform repeatedly in a reliable manner to guarantee safe deceleration and stops, especially near other vehicles sharing the road. In the crashworthiness arena, the challenge facing regulators and safety engineers is to provide good occupant protection despite a wide variety of possible types of crashes, including those between vehicles of different sizes, weights and designs.

While some disparity in vehicle size has always existed, especially between passenger vehicles and medium and heavy trucks, there is growing disparity among passenger vehicles.

The growth of the light truck and van market in recent years -- especially in sport utility vehicles (SUVs) - has aggravated this serious problem of crash incompatibility. Large SUVs, pickups, and vans inflict far more damage and cause greater vehicle intrusion when they collide with smaller passenger vehicles, especially cars. Not only are these vehicles often considerably heavier than most cars, but they also are higher and stiffer so that much more crash energy is transferred to the smaller vehicle in a crash than would be produced by another car.

This means that crash management for protecting occupants in the smaller vehicle is shouldered primarily by the smaller vehicle's safety design and performance. Statistics show that most smaller vehicles don't do a very good job in preventing dangerous, life-threatening crash forces from reaching occupants when their vehicles are struck by larger vehicles. This is especially true in side impact crashes where the larger, heavier, taller, stiffer vehicle is particularly dangerous when its front end collides with the sides of small vehicles, as often occurs in intersection crashes. In these side impacts, there is little structure intervening between occupants and the crash forces. As an example, the chances of death for small car occupants when their vehicles are struck in the side by a large pickup truck or a SUV are more than 20 times greater than when the collision is with another small car.

Whether front or side crashes, it has become rapidly apparent that improving the safety of small vehicles in crashes with larger vehicles requires a systems engineering approach of both further improving the crash management capabilities of smaller vehicles as well as softening the severity of impacts by larger vehicles. Many of the possible countermeasures are just now being implemented or are being studied, but, in the main, they center on better front and, especially, side impact energy management in smaller vehicles, and improved active and passive restraint systems in cars, paralleled by efforts to modulate the height, weight, and general aggressive character of large vans, pickup trucks, and SUVs. Given the 50 percent new vehicle market share now enjoyed by the general class of light trucks and vans, offsetting the excessive crash losses currently suffered by occupants of smaller passenger vehicles when struck by larger vehicles is clearly an urgent topic for safety researchers, government decision makers, and motor vehicle manufacturers.


NHTSA should develop safety countermeasures to improve front end and side impact energy management in smaller vehicles;

NHTSA should develop approaches to modulate the height, weight, and general aggressive character of large vans, pickups, and SUVs;

NHTSA should require improved active and passive occupant restraint systems in cars.


Rollovers of passenger vehicles are particularly severe crashes with very high rates of fatalities and severe injuries which usually are the result of massive trauma, especially to the head and neck. Also, a substantial portion of rollover fatalities is due to occupant ejection. Thus, both crash avoidance and crashworthiness countermeasures are needed to address the enormous annual losses from rollovers. Over 7,000 fatal rollover crashes have occurred each year for the past few years and more than 9,000 deaths in rollover crashes may have occurred in 1998.

Vehicles with narrower wheelbases and a relatively high center of gravity are particularly susceptible to rollover. While rollover occurs in cars, especially smaller, lighter models, the highest rollover rates occur among SUVs and pickup trucks. One of the main difficulties with current SUVs and pickup trucks is their relatively high centers of gravity compared with most passenger cars. Combined with narrow and often very short wheelbases, these design features inherently increase the rollover tendencies of these multipurpose passenger vehicles. SUVs and pickup trucks are involved in half of all fatal rollover crashes and together suffer fatal rollover crashes at twice the rate of all light vehicles (under 10,000 pounds) taken together.

The primary task facing government decision makers and safety engineers is to prevent most rollover crashes from occurring by changing some of the safety performance deficiencies, to enhance vehicle stability, especially in the light truck and van class of passenger vehicles. In cases where rollovers nevertheless occur, multiple countermeasures to prevent ejection are needed including improved performance standards for door locks, latches and hinges, and window materials that prevent occupant ejection. In addition, given the lower rate of seat belt use by occupants of light trucks and vans, increased occupant restraint use must be a priority. Improvements are also needed in vehicle crashworthiness to prevent or mitigate serious injuries resulting from occupant impact with interior surfaces and components of passenger vehicles in rollovers. These countermeasures include padding, advanced air bags, and revised standards for roof crush and localized intrusion.

In 1994 NHTSA terminated rulemaking on a rollover standard. The agency held meetings on providing consumers vehicle stickers or other rollover information. While such information is no substitute for a performance standard, the agency has not proposed a consumer regulation to provide comparative information on vehicle rollover.


NHTSA should establish a new stability performance standard for vehicles under real-world operating conditions;

NHTSA should require improved padding on vehicle interiors;

NHTSA should upgrade the current standard for door latch/hinge performance;

NHTSA should require innovative anti-ejection glazing;

NHTSA should upgrade the roof crush standard;

NHTSA should develop and provide consumers with comparative information on vehicle rollover.


The roof crush standard governs passenger vehicle roof crash strength, but this safety requirement is inadequate in real-world crashes and has not undergone major revision since 1971. The present standard only requires that a force equal to one and one-half times the weight of the vehicle be applied to the reinforced sides of the roof structure at the roof rails. Moreover, this is merely a static test, the force is applied while the vehicle is standing still, that does not apply to the central portion of the roof structure that is not supported by the roof rails. As a result, roof crush and localized intrusion into the passenger compartment are common events in on-roof rollover crashes and crashes in which the roof rails strike narrow cross-section objects at the roadside such as trees and poles. The standard, therefore, is a poor measure of roof crush performance under actual crash conditions and provides inadequate occupant protection.

The standard needs to be upgraded to include performance requirements that provide for occupant protection in full, on-roof rollover crashes. The standard should require a dynamic crash test that meets the real-world demands placed on car and light truck roofs in order to preserve occupant compartment crush space. In particular, a new standard must ensure that vehicle roofs are resistant in full rollover crashes both to general failure of support structures as well as to localized intrusion.

In 1994, when NHTSA terminated rulemaking on a performance standard for vehicle rollover, one of the actions it promised to take was improvement of the roof crush standard. While the agency has continued to research the issue, no regulatory action has been proposed.


NHTSA should upgrade the roof crush standard to include performance requirements that control general roof failure and localized roof intrusion;

NHTSA should upgrade the roof crush standard to require a dynamic crash test that reflects real-world crash experience.


Side impacts have increasingly become a leading source of motor vehicle deaths and severe injuries. More than one-third of serious to severe injuries sustained each year by occupants in passenger vehicles are the result of side impacts. A major aspect of the problem is the fact that there is so little protective structure in passenger vehicles between occupants and collision forces. While the front ends of vehicles often have several feet of structure which can manage some or most of the crash forces, this is not true of the sides and doors of most passenger vehicles.

This safety problem has grown more acute over the last several years in large part because of the expansion of the light truck and van market, including SUVs, which has surpassed sales of new cars. As a result, the side impact problem has taken center stage because of the disproportionate losses suffered by car occupants when their vehicle is struck in the side by larger, heavier light trucks and vans.

Two standards govern side impact protection: one standard addresses lower vehicle interior protection of the lower torso; the other requires at least some additional padding to offset upper interior head injuries. A key shortcoming of these standards is the lack of a systems engineering approach to side impact occupant protection. The standards were separately developed and issued without specific coordination so that an overall, uniform set of countermeasures are usually not implemented by manufacturers complying with their minimum requirements. At the present time, manufacturers are responding to both standards with widely varying levels of protection for motorists, some supplying side impact air bags of varying effectiveness while others rely only on extra padding. Some vehicles successfully complying with the minimum requirements of both standards nevertheless are clearly not equal to the task of preventing death and serious injury in collisions with both fixed objects and with other vehicles.

Almost a third of all fatal crashes are single vehicle events and a large portion of these involve roadway departures into highly dangerous roadside environments. One of the most lethal kinds of side impacts is a car or light truck that skids out of control and slides sideways into a tree, telephone pole, light or signal support, or other object which results in deep, localized intrusion into the passenger compartment. As part of a systems engineering approach, roadside protective barriers and crash cushions would be used routinely, and solid roadside objects such as poles and light supports should be replaced with supports that breakaway or deform safely when struck.


NHTSA should upgrade side impact protection performance requirements;

NHTSA should upgrade side impact test requirements for light trucks and vans;

NHTSA should develop approaches to modulate the height, weight, and general aggressive character of large vans, pickups, and SUVs;

FHWA should require placement of protective barriers and crash cushions where appropriate on federal-aid highways;

FHWA should require retrofit for breakaway poles, light supports and other highway appurtenances on federal-aid highways.


Head restraint design and performance is an excellent example of occupant crash protection. Although relatively few lives are lost from low-speed rear impacts by other vehicles, neck injuries cause enormous pain, many lost work days, and economic losses for the hundreds of thousands of people who unnecessarily suffer these injuries each year. In fact, the federal government estimates that nearly one million people a year suffer neck injuries from rear impacts due almost entirely to inadequate head restraint design and performance.

The current head restraint standard has been on the books since 1969, but no changes have been made to its original requirements which have been shown in many studies over the years to be highly inadequate. One of the important shortcomings of the FMVSS regulation of head restraints is that it permits restraints which are too low and do not prevent the head and neck from snapping back over the top of the restraint. The current standard also permits restraints to be retracted so that they are often useless in preventing injury. But restraint height is not the only safety issue. Another problem with the standard is that it allows too much space between the back of the head and the front of the head restraint so that a good deal of dangerous head movement to the rear can occur before the head restraint begins to work.

Better head restraint designs have been researched, tested, and placed in some models of cars for several years. Some of these designs, unfortunately, perform well only if occupants properly adjust them. But newer designs are even self-adjusting prior to a rear impact so that maximum protection of the neck and head occurs at impact. Other designs are energy-absorbing to increase protection to the head and neck during a crash. State-of-the-art designs far exceed the minimal FMVSS compliance standard which is long past due for revision.


NHTSA should upgrade standard to include state-of-the-art performance requirements;

NHTSA should include performance requirements to increase restraint height and to reduce distance between back of occupant's head and the head restraint.


State laws require the use of child restraint systems when transporting children, but it is the Federal safety standard for child restraint systems that regulates the minimum requirements for the child restraint. FMVSS No. 213, Child Restraint Systems, establishes the minimum requirements for manufacturing, testing, installing, and registering safety restraint systems. Great strides have been taken to improve the safety standard in recent years, including testing of child restraints with a range of child-sized test dummies of different weights, and the adoption of a new uniform system for securing child restraints without using vehicle safety belts that will be available in a few years. The standard should also be updated by a requirement for integrated child restraints that are built in to the seat backs of passenger vehicles. Because they are an integral part of the vehicle structure, integrated child restraints provide better stability than existing add-on restraint designs.

While these improvements address the safety of young children in child restraints, up to approximately age four, children from five years to nine or ten years old remain at risk. Children in this age group often do not use child restraints intended for younger children and are too small to fit properly or comfortably in lap/shoulder safety belt systems designed for adults. Moreover, the child restraint standard does not apply to children over 50 pounds.

Since the safety environment in passenger vehicles does not address the needs of children between 5 and 10 years of age, it should come as no surprise that proper restraint use decreases as children get older. While restraint use for infants is 85 percent, use of restraints by children ages 5 through 15 is only 64 percent. As a result, many of these children ride unsecured and unbelted. In 1997, 457 children aged 5 to 9 were killed in passenger vehicles and another 91,000 were injured.

The passenger vehicle environment does not adequately meet the safety needs of older children in a crash. Existing child restraint regulations do not provide protection to older children who would benefit from other child restraint devices such as booster seats. This gap in protection for older children is not acceptable. The child restraint standard must be expanded to cover children who weigh more than 50 pounds, up to as much as 80 pounds, and to establish minimum safety requirements for booster seats and belt-positioning devices. In addition, booster seats and other devices should be tested with crash test dummies representative of children in this age group. The current 6-year-old, 48 pound, child test dummy is inappropriate for testing up to 80, pounds so development of a larger, heavier test dummy approximating a 10-year-old child needs to be conducted.

Another measure to improve safety is testing child restraint systems in real-world crash conditions. Although child restraints are currently subjected to a dynamic performance test, that test does not involve a real-world crash. Child restraints are only required to be tested in a sled test that simulates a barrier crash but does not recreate the dynamic forces that occur in a real-world crash. Child restraints should be tested in current crash test programs conducted by vehicle manufacturers and the government.


NHTSA should expand the scope of the child restraint system standard to children who weigh 80 pounds;

NHTSA should establish minimum safety requirements for child booster seats and belt-adjusting devices;

NHTSA should develop a child test dummy representative of a 10-year-old child;

NHTSA should require that child restraints be dynamically tested.


Electronic monitoring of vehicle operating systems is a burgeoning area of research and application to the entire range of motor vehicles, both large and small. An important area of safety technology which could save many lives and reduce the serious consequences of injuries to survivors in motor vehicle crashes is on-board crash recorders. These systems not only have promise in helping to reconstruct the actual circumstances of crashes, but also can be used to transmit information to emergency medical services personnel and police so that responses to severe crashes, especially in less populated parts of the country, can be accelerated.

Some manufacturers are already equipping certain models of passenger vehicles with different types of on-board recorders. The information recorded varies but should include the date and time, the vehicle speed at the time of impact and the change in velocity of the vehicle, the type of crash type (i.e., side or frontal impact), whether safety belts were buckled and other pertinent data. Information relayed to medical facilities on impact severity can be transmitted directly to emergency response units and used for triage in order to assure the appropriate medical response is dispatched as quickly as possible. Rapid response to crash injuries frequently not only results in saving lives that otherwise would be lost from delay, but also has substantial effects on the severity level of injuries which are not life threatening. The Haddon Matrix emphasizes the need to continue protection after the crash event itself so that appropriate care of the injured occupants or pedestrians occurs as quickly as possible.

On-board crash recorders are part of the development in technologies that can provide monitoring of commercial vehicle operating systems as well as human performance behind the wheel. Reliable technologies are now available which can accurately verify important safety aspects of commercial vehicle driver performance, especially adherence to regulated maximum limits for driving time. Technologies such as on-board recorders and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems can provide both real-time and stored data on commercial vehicle operator continuous driving time and vehicle location on the road. On-board recorders, in combination with vehicle GPS, can deter falsification of commercial driver paper logbooks and reduce the dependence of enforcement personnel on paper documentation for vehicle routing and driver duty status. These means of overseeing commercial driver hours of service compliance could substantially reduce the dangers of large trucks and buses being operated by fatigued drivers whose alertness and safety performance has been reduced by sleep deprivation.


NHTSA should require on-board crash recorders in all passenger vehicles and establish minimum requirements for data collection;

NHTSA should require appropriate data on crash mode and severity be linked to automatic crash notification systems.

FHWA should require on-board commercial vehicle technologies which help to accurately verify commercial driver hours of service compliance.


In the post-crash area of the Haddon Matrix, countermeasures have usually involved advances in the quality of hospital-based medical care. The problem has always been confirming that a crash has occurred and locating the site in time for medical intervention to make a difference. It is estimated that nearly half of all highway fatalities, about 20,000, take place prior to any hospital care. Timely medical intervention has been shown to increase the chances of surviving a crash and for reducing the extent of long-term care for those with severe physical injuries. This is particularly important in rural areas where hospital care may not be close by.

In the last decade, strides have also been made in improving the response time of emergency services in some crashes, especially through the use of cellular telephone communications and the availability of helicopters. However, emergency response time is still a major factor in the medical outcome for crash victims. While, crash notification averages 5 minutes in urban areas and 10 minutes in rural areas, appropriate emergency medical response can take much longer, particularly in more isolated rural areas. A major breakthrough in post-crash emergency response time for all crashes is possible through the use of automatic crash notification systems (ACN) located in the vehicle.

In the event of a crash, the ACN system would immediately notify the nearest emergency dispatch office which contacts the appropriate responders. This would generally be done through cellular telephones in the vehicle. For example, in a crash at or above a predetermined severity the ACN system would automatically dial 9-1-1, transmit location information and open a phone line for direct communication with the vehicle occupants. The most sophisticated system would also transmit crash data from the vehicle's on-board recorder including the type of crash (frontal, side, rollover), the impact speed or change in velocity, whether safety belts were buckled and air bags deployed, and other relevant crash data. Specific information about the type and severity of the crash can indicate to medical personnel the kinds of injuries that are likely to be involved and ensure that the emergency responders are properly equipped.

ACN systems are one area in which existing technologies can be applied with great effect. Although a number of different systems are currently being tested, significant government and private resources and organizational activities are required in order to make ACN systems a reality and to ensure that they become standard equipment in all motor vehicles.


NHTSA and FHWA should make ACN a transportation safety priority;

NHTSA and FHWA should dedicate greater resources and more funding for ACN development and testing;

ACN technology should be required standard equipment on all passenger vehicles.


The pedestrian is often the forgotten victim in annual crash statistics. More than 5,000 pedestrians are killed each year when struck by motor vehicles and nearly 100,000 are injured, with older people and young children suffering disproportionate deaths and injuries. A large part of the problem with pedestrian crash safety is that many serious injuries and deaths occur at relatively low vehicle impact speeds. Despite the low speed such a crash can often result in death because people are killed from head trauma when the upper torso and head strike stiff, unyielding portions of the vehicle front end, including fender tops and windshield cowls which inflict terrible injuries. Making basic changes to the aggressive quality of passenger vehicle front ends could save scores of lives and prevent hundreds of serious injuries.

The front surfaces of cars and light trucks could be made less rigid and less dangerous to pedestrians. One manufacturer has already redesigned the front end of its 1999 model to increase the space between the hood and engine compartment components that can cause severe head trauma, and also to soften the tops of fenders so that impact forces are reduced. These countermeasures are easily achievable in the designs of new vehicles. NHTSA's research has

shown that these new designs were both feasible and cost-effective and could dramatically reduce pedestrian injuries by changing the front end designs of cars, pickup trucks, and vans. Nevertheless, NHTSA has not moved forward with any requirement that motor vehicles be designed to be more forgiving in pedestrian crashes.


NHTSA should establish a vehicle safety standard to improve protection for pedestrians struck by vehicles;

NHTSA should include performance requirements that provide for less rigid parts on passenger vehicle fronts ends and that require safer distances between the vehicle hood and engine parts.


Commercial motor vehicles, large trucks and buses, are a major link in our national transportation system. Trucks especially play an essential role in the economy by facilitating the distribution of a large portion of the products sold in America. Despite this important contribution, they impose a heavy cost in terms of traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

In 1997, approximately 444,000 large trucks were involved in traffic crashes in the U.S. Of this total, 4,871 were fatal crashes in which 5,398 people died, while another 133,000 persons were injured in truck-involved crashes. In that year, one in eight traffic fatalities, or 13 percent, resulted from a collision involving a large truck. Even as the rate of fatalities in truck crashes has fallen, the total number of persons killed or injured in truck-involved crashes has been on the rise over the past decade. Moreover, a disproportionate number of fatalities and serious injuries occur when large trucks collide with smaller, passenger vehicles. When large trucks have crashes with passenger vehicles, 98 percent of the deaths are suffered by the occupants of the cars and light trucks.

The impact of economic trends on the trucking industry, including a growing economy, low gas prices, and "just in time" delivery, coupled with the deregulation of the trucking industry itself, assure that there will be continued expansion of the trucking industry in years to come. Because trucks are disproportionately involved in crashes and fatalities, the safety of truck design and operations must be closely scrutinized and regulated.

Large trucks and buses have a number of unique safety problems. They also share certain of the crash avoidance and crashworthiness problems of smaller passenger vehicles, especially pickup trucks, vans, and SUVs, but on a grander scale. Many of the inherent safety deficiencies of trucks and buses are further magnified in their highway operations because they do not "fit" the highway environment as well as smaller vehicles. This is a particularly severe problem for the heaviest classes of trucks which have poor crash avoidance capabilities, and because the margins of error for heavy vehicle drivers are also reduced by highway design features which often do not meet the needs of big truck and bus operations.

These challenges usually cannot be completely met through a single countermeasure, but instead require an application of systems engineering responses to safety issues. Properly addressing commercial vehicle safety problems involves many factors: the dynamic characteristics of large vehicles both in normal operations and in crashes; how these characteristics are accommodated by road and traffic engineering design; and how well or badly the human operator at the controls can manage the negotiation of an often very heavy, very unwieldy vehicle under all operating circumstances.

The following sections will review the most basic safety problems of commercial vehicle design and performance, and what needs to be done to improve on-the-road safety. Other aspects of commercial vehicle safety involving the driver and the road will be discussed later in this Report.


More than 50 percent of all deaths to truck drivers each year are the result of their rigs rolling over. Medium and heavy single-unit trucks and buses are considerably more unstable than passenger cars, and combination units such as tractor-trailers are especially prone to rollover. Their high centers of gravity and relatively narrow wheelbases are inherent design factors which make their stability even more troublesome when the tractor is hitched to a cargo trailer. Because tractor-trailers pivot at the attachment point between the tractor and the trailer, different forces can affect each part of the truck in widely varying ways.

The problems of tractor-trailer stability and rollover tendency are magnified when the combination truck is composed of the tractor and two or even three trailers. In these instances, additional stability problems come into play because of high-speed offtracking and trailer sway. High-speed offtracking of a multiple-trailer combination truck means that in going around a curve to the left at highway speeds, for example, the trailers swing out to the right or to the outside of the lane. Trailer sway is due primarily to the increased tendency of trailers hooked together in a series simply to wander back and forth from side to side.

Driver mistakes, especially those involving quick steering reversals which would often have little destabilizing effect in passenger cars, cause even worse offtracking and a "crack-the-whip" effect in which the rearmost trailer suddenly begins to swing and rock violently from side to side. This violent action is carried forward through the preceding units of the rig until the combination is so unstable that rollover takes place.

A number of fundamental countermeasures can be applied simultaneously to improve the crash avoidance response of tractor-trailers, particularly for reducing rollover tendencies.

These include different "fifth-wheel" designs, reconfigured and lower suspension systems, wider wheelbases, and revised design principles for cargo units, including tank trailers, which could significantly lower the center of gravity. For trailers, reasonable operational restrictions on multi-unit combinations can be matched with design changes to the attachment of one trailer to another so they respond to curves and quick steering movements without easily becoming unstable.


NHTSA should require performance standards which could significantly reduce the propensity for rollover including requirements for lower center of gravity, improved suspension systems, wider wheelbases and revised design principles for cargo units, including tank trailers;

NHTSA should develop performance requirements that improve the ability of trailers to respond to curves and quick steering movements without becoming unstable;

FHWA should require reasonable operational restrictions for multi-unit combinations that restrict tractor-trailers from operating on facilities not designed to accommodate vehicles of that size.


Brakes for large trucks and buses currently have a number of drawbacks. But designing better, more reliable and effective braking systems, especially for large trucks, is a challenge due to the substantial difference between braking a large truck when empty, for example, and when it is fully loaded. The considerable range of weight differences in the same truck-trailer combination are not equally accommodated by current braking design or performance. Instead, brakes are optimized to work best when the truck is near its maximum weight. Consequently, an unloaded tractor-trailer tends to brake unreliably and, in trucks without antilock brakes, braking distances can be longer than with a fully loaded truck. Another danger is locking the brakes, especially those on the rear drive axle of the tractor, leading to tractor spinout and a jackknife of the trailer.

At the other extreme, an overweight truck demands braking capacity which cannot be provided by the brakes, especially in rolling terrain where braking on downgrades is repeatedly required. In these instances, truck brakes are especially prone to heat up and result in very long braking distances. In worst case conditions, brakes can even fail causing a fully-loaded or over-loaded truck to be unstoppable. In an age of sophisticated technology, the prevalence of runaway truck ramps is an indication of the poor state of truck brakes.

Antilock brakes are important safety features of both tractors and trailers because they permit drivers to apply maximum pedal force without the danger of locking the brakes of either the tractor or trailer. While they have improved performance in important respects, antilock brakes are not a cure-all for braking deficiencies in the current generation of heavy trucks and buses.

One of the central problems with larger commercial vehicles is that they rely on air brakes rather than hydraulic brakes. Air brakes require time for air pressure to build up in order to actuate the brake drums on each wheel. Even when all brakes are properly adjusted, it is not unusual, especially with multi-trailer combinations such as Triples (a tractor pulling three short trailers), to have several seconds delay until braking occurs at the last trailer.

The delays experienced in air brakes before actual braking occurs can be reduced through the actuation of each brake by electronic signal. Such brakes are called "brake-by-wire" systems. Because braking distances particularly of air-braked tractor trailers can be several times longer than comparable car braking under the same conditions, brake-by-wire systems could substantially reduce both the number of crashes as well as their severity because braking distances for heavy vehicles would be considerably reduced. Also, brake-by-wire controls brake wear so that braking systems are in better service condition between routine and preventive maintenance intervals.

Although brake-by-wire systems are available on every tractor in Europe and supplied as standard equipment by some manufacturers there, it is only offered as a option by one U.S. manufacturer.


NHTSA should require performance standards in commercial motor vehicles to reduce the time needed to actuate the brake drums in order to induce the installation of brake-by-wire braking systems.


The large differences in size, especially height, width, and length, between large commercial vehicles and small passenger vehicles causes a host of operational problems which often lead to collisions between trucks, buses, and smaller passenger vehicles. In these crashes, the small vehicle is badly overmatched because of the vastly greater weight or mass of the large truck or bus. The enormous difference in weight means that the chances of small vehicle occupant survival are tremendously reduced because the crash management capabilities of a car or light truck are unable to protect occupants against the force of the large truck, especially at higher impact speeds. This outcome places great importance on preventing the collision.

Changes in vehicle performance requirements can help prevent crashes from occurring in the first instance and make those crashes that do occur more survivable. Crash prevention is a challenge because of the very different operating characteristics of large commercial vehicles. Big trucks and buses perform basic highway maneuvers more slowly than passenger vehicles. Lane changes, acceleration from entry lanes and ramps to make mergers, and braking, among other actions, take more time and more space than a car or light truck. Part of the additional time and space necessary reflects the inherent operating characteristics and limitations of trucks and buses, but another factor is the need to maintain control of the vehicle.

This means that passenger vehicles must be able to see commercial vehicles and to be seen by their drivers. Large trucks, however, are often poorly lit at night and at certain angles of view are nearly invisible to passenger vehicle drivers. The basic lighting standards for large commercial vehicles are virtually unchanged since the middle of this century.

Night-time conspicuity of some heavy vehicles has been marginally improved in recent years by a new regulation requiring strategically placed reflectors on the sides and rear of most trailers and truck tractors. However, although improved conspicuity could also reduce passenger vehicle rear and side impact collisions with single-unit trucks, the Department of Transportation has not been extended this rule to medium and heavy commercial vehicles.

As for seeing other vehicles in their vicinity, commercial drivers are usually at a distinct disadvantage because of large blind spots in front of, alongside, and behind their trucks and buses. Although FHWA and others have called for passenger cars to stay far away from big commercial vehicles because of this problem, it is obvious that under many operating conditions this is simply not feasible. Instead, truck and bus driver fields of vision need to be augmented by both improved mirror designs, which increase the capacity of the commercial driver to view the areas alongside the truck or bus, as well as electronic systems which supplement mirrors. Vehicle detection systems are rapidly being developed which rely on Doppler radar, for example, and which provide commercial drivers the ability to "see" other vehicles around their rigs so that lane changes are not made with catastrophic consequences. While some of these sophisticated electronic detection systems are still in development, others have already been tested and are in limited use. But neither improved mirror systems nor electronic vehicle detection systems have been required by NHTSA or FHWA. As a result, it is not surprising that truck-passenger vehicle crashes are regular events.

A major source of crash deaths and serious injuries occur when small motor vehicles strike large ones in rear and side underride collisions. Because the sides and rear of a trailer are

high - sometimes almost at roof height of a small car - passenger vehicles can run under the trailer resulting in massive intrusion of the trailer into the passenger occupant compartment.

One means of reducing impact forces in underride crashes is to place metal guards on the rear and sides of trucks to block passenger vehicles from going under the truck trailer. For rear underride crashes, NHTSA has issued a regulation calling for a rear impact guard on most trailers which, however, is not optimized for maximum crash management and in some cases may still permit underride. Requiring rear underride guards for single-unit trucks, which are involved in one-quarter of annual rear impact crash deaths to passenger vehicle occupants, has not been proposed. Moreover, no side underride guards are currently required on trucks or trailers although this is a major source of underride crash losses.

Another means of ameliorating the crash between a large truck and a smaller passenger vehicle is to reduce the aggressive character of large trucks and buses. Because the crash management of a small motor vehicle cannot cope with the transmission of impact forces from a large vehicle, a basic safety design approach is to attenuate the crash, or lengthen the time of the impact. This means that collisions are spread out over a longer space and amount of time so that changes in velocity are less sudden and lethal. Commercial vehicle frontal collisions with passenger vehicles result in several thousand severe injuries and deaths each year. These can be ameliorated by reducing the aggressive character of large truck and bus front ends. There are a number of approaches to dealing with this problem, some of them centered on applying the lessons learned in highway barrier and crash cushion design to vehicle design.


NHTSA, which has jurisdiction over newly manufactured trucks and buses, should upgrade performance requirements for truck and bus lighting systems;

NHTSA should require improved conspicuity treatment for single-unit trucks;

NHTSA should require improved mirror and electronic vehicle detection systems for trucks and buses;

NHTSA should improve requirements for rear impact guards to make them lower and more energy-absorbing and extend these requirements to single-unit trucks;

NHTSA should require side impact guards to prevent side underride of large trucks and trailers by passenger vehicles;

NHTSA should adopt performance requirements that reduce front end "aggressivity" of bus and truck cab designs;

FHWA, which has jurisdiction over the on-road operation of trucks and buses, should require the retrofit of improved truck rear impact guards to make them lower and more energy-absorbing;

FHWA should require the retrofit of side impact guards to prevent side underride of large trucks and trailers by passenger vehicles.


There are firm indications that both the sizes and weights of large commercial vehicles have reached and even exceeded the operating safety and structural limits of our highways. Truck sizes and weights, governed by a confusing patchwork of federal and state limits and legal exemptions, have grown over the past quarter-century to the point where our nation's infrastructure is unable to accommodate today's big trucks. Safety margins in areas such as rollover resistance, encroachment of outside travel lanes, and heavy vehicle braking have been reduced or eliminated so that, along with a tremendous and often disproportionate growth in truck traffic on many highways, both truck drivers and the rest of the traveling public are placed at increased risk of death and injury.

Although there are pressures to raise truck weights even further, numerous studies have consistently shown that increasing the gross, that is, the total or overall weight of large trucks rapidly increases their chances of suffering a rollover crash. In fact, standard "18-wheeler" trucks weighing 100,000 pounds instead of the maximum federal limit of 80,000 pounds have 50 percent more rollover crashes than the lighter rigs. Similarly, extra-heavy, overweight trucks have significantly poorer braking which results in longer stopping distances than lighter trucks. Given the already substantially longer stopping distances for large trucks as compared with small passenger vehicles, further increases in stopping distances by overweight trucks often makes the difference between stopping safely in time or having a crash. Recent background studies and white papers produced for the Federal Highway Administration have even explicitly recommended against allowing the present generation of standard tractor/semi-trailer combination trucks to carry more than 80,000 pounds because of predictable increases in crash risk for these extra-heavy trucks.

Unfortunately, the problems with overweight trucks are matched by the substantial degradation of operating safety when combination trucks become extra-long. Studies, such as those performed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) the late 1980s, showed that even trailers 48 feet long could not negotiate a large percentage of the nation's freeway ramps because of offtracking. Offtracking consists of the different paths taken by the front steering tires and the wider path taken by the rear cargo tires of a large vehicle. This is especially pronounced in combination tractor/semi-trailers when turning or following a highway curve. Extra-long trailers - a few states now permit up to 59 and 60 feet in length - are dangerous when rounding severe curves and turning corners at lower speeds because they will frequently cross over the centerlines of two-lane roads or swing out into both adjacent and oncoming lanes to accomplish turns at right-angled intersections.

It also should be pointed out that some extra-long combinations are even more dangerous because they are composed of two or even three trailing cargo units instead of just one. In a Triple-Trailer rig, for example, there are three attachment points where the trailers pivot in negotiating curves and turns, a design feature which makes these big rigs even more unstable and prone to rollover, and, in some cases, also resulting in even worse offtracking. Also, electrical design problems in some of these longest combinations result in insufficient power reaching the last trailer in the series so that its brakes are not engaged. This can result in even longer stopping distances.

Extra-long, excessively-heavy trucks also diminish safety from our nation's highways in yet another way. Overweight axles and excessive gross weights also radically increase both the severity and rate of damage to road pavement and to bridges. Many states are allowed extra-heavy gross or axle weights on commercial vehicles under complicated legal rights provided by federal law when construction began on the Interstate Highway in the late 1950s. This increased damage to the Interstate System is compounded by the extra-heavy weights allowed by many states on roads off the Interstate System. These are roads which, in most instances, are damaged even faster than Interstate highways because they are often built to substantially lower design standards, including poorer pavement quality. In all cases, however, overweight trucks cause much more damage than trucks obeying weight limits and this increased damage must be repaired by diverting dollars needed to enhance basic highway safety design and instead devoting these scarce funds to structural rehabilitation of roads and bridges.

This brief overview of truck size and weight safety underscores the need to ensure that no further increases in truck sizes and weights are allowed, especially at the federal level for the Interstate System. In fact, with the advent of the National Highway System in 1995, there is a pressing need for federal legislation limiting the sizes and weights of big trucks on this more extensive federally-funded network of major highways. Without such legislative control, truck sizes and weights will both continue to increase in response to the repeated arguments for industry economies of scale and improved commercial productivity. Amending federal laws in the past to accommodate these arguments have unfortunately resulted in both increased crash risks for large trucks and accelerated, more costly damage to our country's streets, highways, and bridges.


Congress should extend the current federal weight limit of 80,000 pounds, and the length limit of 53 feet, on the Interstate Highway System to the National Highway System;

Congress should continue the freeze on longer combination vehicles (LCVs);

Congress should not enact special interest exemptions that permit trucks to exceed current federal gross and axle weight limits;

States should not permit increased weight limits on state and local roads and streets.



The Haddon Matrix, as originally conceived, referred to the driver as the active human element in traffic safety. The actions of the driver remain a key component of the matrix, particularly when it comes to attentiveness to the driving task. However, there is a realization that many human factors contribute to safety including the actions of occupants and the role that social attitudes, laws, and government regulation play in shaping human behavior. The issues that predominate in this area are those that can achieve major improvements in safety outcomes in the future. They are largely issues of driver and occupant behavior aimed either at discouraging risk taking and risky behavior or which are intended to encourage safer practices. For this reason, rather than referring just to the driver, the Report uses the term "Human Factors."


Occupant protection is a shared responsibility of vehicle and equipment designers and passenger car occupants. While safety belts, child restraints and helmets must be made available to the public, drivers and other occupants must make use of this equipment in order to increase their chances of surviving a crash. Not all occupants, however, exercise good judgment regarding their personal safety, or take simple steps to protect the welfare of their loved ones. It has been well documented elsewhere that occupant protection is a matter of public health and safety, and that the consequences of motor vehicle crashes, injuries and deaths are borne by society as a whole. Thus, the failure of drivers and other occupants to take basic steps to insure their protection is not merely an individual decision but a matter of general concern to society.

Motivating people to take appropriate precautions is a difficult undertaking in almost every area of public health. With respect to occupant protection in motor vehicles, it is a monumental task because it involves changing human behavior to adopt safer practices. This is made all the more difficult because there is no single solution or one-time action that will ensure continual occupant protection. A number of different actions may need to be taken and, to be effective, these actions must be accomplished for each trip. For example, child restraints, if removed from the vehicle, have to be properly installed for the next use. While portions of the population decide to adopt good safety practices, which may then become a matter of habit, other portions of the population require outside intervention in order to conform to good safety practices.

At a fundamental level, changing social attitudes has been slow but effective in making people more receptive to occupant protection. Over the past 30 years, for example, the safety community in general has been successful in making safety belt and child restraint use socially acceptable.

Change in societal attitudes alone, however, is not sufficient to convince all segments of the population. Educational programs are needed to reach other segments of society with information on safety actions that provide occupant protection. This approach has been effective, for example, with children and new parents regarding the need to use child restraints. To reach all segments of society, however, state laws and federal requirements are necessary. Mandatory legal requirements, coupled with educational materials and information, that are backed up by effective enforcement strategies, are the most effective means of reaching the maximum number of people. Safety requirements set in legislation establish a clear and uniform code of conduct for all citizens. State laws and federal requirements have played a major role in convincing the majority of citizens to adapt their behavior on a number of health and safety issues. Such laws protect not only society's interest in reducing motor vehicle crashes, deaths and injuries, but they improve the safety of individuals, even those who abide by the law reluctantly, by increasing their chances of surviving a crash.


Safety belts are widely recognized as the single most effective safety device in passenger motor vehicles and are estimated to save 9,500 lives each year. According to government figures safety belts would save more than an additional 4,100 lives and prevent 102,000 injuries if the national seat belt use rate was 85 percent. Despite the fact that 49 states and the District of Columbia have enacted mandatory safety belt use laws, the national rate for buckling up is still only about 70 percent. By comparison, most other industrialized nations have national belt use rates in excess of 90 percent.

Both the federal and state governments have focused on how to encourage people to buckle up. The President has made it a priority to increase safety belt usage to 85 percent by the year 2000 and to 90 percent by 2005. Congress passed two incentive grant programs to encourage states to increase belt usage, authorizing a total of $568 million for the programs enacted as part of the 1998 Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).

The most effective method of achieving the goal of increased safety belt use rates is the passage of standard, or primary, enforcement of state safety belt use laws. Standard enforcement allows police officers to cite unbelted motorists for not wearing their safety belts just as they would for any other traffic violation. Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia have standard enforcement of safety belt laws. Thirty-three states have secondary enforcement laws which, unlike any other traffic law, prevents officers from issuing a ticket for failure to use safety belts unless another, separate traffic offense has also been committed.

Standard enforcement laws have proven effective in state after state. After California upgraded their safety belt law in 1993 to standard enforcement, statewide belt use increased significantly, from 70 percent in 1992 to more than 90 percent in 1998. During the first year of its law, Louisiana experienced an 18 percentage point increase in belt use. Additionally, the District of Columbia's use rate since standard enforcement was enacted went from 58 percent in 1996 to 82 percent in 1998.

Although standard enforcement laws are very effective, some state legislatures have been reluctant to upgrade their secondary enforcement laws. The two major opposing arguments have been concerns about personal freedom and the issue of racial "profiling," law enforcement officers unfairly targeting minority drivers. Some people believe that they have the "right" to decide not to wear a safety belt because it is their lives and their safety alone that is at stake. However, one individual's decision can lead to dangerous consequences affecting others. In the event of a crash, an unbelted driver has less control of the vehicle, and unbelted occupants often injure other occupants. Additionally, medical costs for an unbuckled crash victim are 50 percent more than those of victims who used a safety belt. Furthermore, 85 percent of the cost of crashes are absorbed by society, and not by the unrestrained individual who was involved in the crash. Moreover, children imitate the habits of their parents and if their parents don't buckle up then the children will tend not to buckle up as well.

Other critics claim that Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Laws will aggravate the problem of differential stopping and searching of African Americans and other minorities. However, the findings of a NHTSA study of several states with Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Laws suggest that there were no differences in ticketing by race that would suggest an unfair bias against minorities.

More important, seat belt use can save lives among minority populations. Research has shown that once states enact standard enforcement laws, the greatest increase in belt use is found in minority populations. According to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), safety belt use by African American men in states with standard enforcement of safety belt laws is 25 percent higher than in states with secondary laws. Meharry Medical College, the nation's oldest private academic institution that is dedicated to providing health sciences education to African Americans and other under-represented minorities, released a study in July, 1999, which estimated that 100% belt use among African Americans could save as many as 1,300 lives per year, prevent 26,000 injuries and reduce societal costs by $2.6 billion.

Furthermore, there appears to be widespread support within minority populations for standard enforcement. A July 1997 survey by Public Opinion Strategies found that 68 percent of African-Americans favored standard enforcement of safety belt laws.

Emerging trends in the U.S. population show the Latino population growing seven times faster than the population as a whole. By the year 2050, Latinos are expected to be the largest minority group in the country, comprising one quarter of the total population. Currently, motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for Latinos under 24, and the second leading cause in the 24-55 age group.

Another trend is the growing number of young drivers. Across ethnic and racial lines, young drivers have a lower rate of safety belt use compared with adults. Over 60 percent of the teens killed in crashes in 1997 were not wearing safety belts. A survey conducted by CDC found that more than 31 percent of black, 21 percent of white and 18 percent of Hispanic high school students reported either rarely or never wearing their safety belts. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the University of Michigan found that when they adjusted teenager crash data for miles traveled, the death rate was highest for Hispanics and African Americans. Considering that the number of young drivers is expected to increase dramatically in the next ten years, the need for strong safety belt laws and effective enforcement strategies will become greater than ever before.


Congress should require uniform adoption in every state of standard enforcement of safety belt use laws or face the loss of federal-aid highway funds;

States should enact and vigorously enforce standard enforcement of safety belt use laws.


Over the past ten years, states have improved their laws regarding occupant protection, and specifically, child occupant protection. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted standard enforcement child occupant protection laws. Child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injuries to infants by 69 percent and to toddlers by 47 percent. Safety belts and child restraint systems saved the lives of almost 4,000 children between 1975 and 1997. However, despite these improvements, approximately 300,000 children are injured and almost 2,000 children die as a result of traffic crashes each year. In 1997, an alarming 63 percent of the children under age 15 killed in crashes were totally unrestrained. A large number of these deaths could have been prevented if the child had been properly restrained.

Part of the problem is that 27 states have loopholes, or gaps in their safety restraint laws. These gaps allow children of certain ages, and in certain seating positions, to ride in vehicles without being secured in child restraints or without wearing safety belts. Other gaps include: holding only parents and not other drivers responsible for obeying the laws; exempting drivers of out-of-state vehicles from state child restraint laws; applying the laws only to children of state residents; and exempting children traveling in pickup trucks from safety restraint requirements. If these gaps in state laws are closed, and all children are properly restrained all the time, as many as an additional 630 children's lives would be saved and another 182,000 serious injuries prevented.

Comprehensive child restraint laws and Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Laws are strongly supported by the public. A 1996 Lou Harris public opinion poll commissioned by Advocates found that Americans were overwhelmingly in favor of requiring children to be properly secured. Other organizations have reported similarly favorable results. In the 1998 Louis Harris poll, 90 percent of the Americans responded that they favored stronger enforcement of child safety laws that require all children to be buckled up.

Even though a new federal regulatory requirement should make the installation of child restraints in vehicles simpler, the regulation will not take effect for a few years and then only in new passenger vehicles. In order to reduce the high rate of child restraint misinstallation in the near term, more educational programs that teach parents how to properly install and use safety restraint systems are needed. Some of these efforts, including cooperative programs between government and the private sector, are already underway but more funding and resources are needed.

In addition to closing the gaps for younger children in child restraints, stronger safety belt laws are needed to protect child occupants. One of the best indicators of child occupant restraint use is adult safety belt use. Surveys have found that a driver who is wearing a safety belt will buckle up a toddler 86 percent of the time, versus only 24 percent of the time if the adult does not wear a safety belt. Thus, enacting Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Laws which have been shown to increase adult safety belt use, will also result in more child occupants being secured either in child restraints or safety belts.

Moreover, many state safety belt use laws do not cover all children in all seating positions. Children who have outgrown child restraints are at risk if they ride unrestrained, even if they are seated in the rear seat. While the rear seat is comparatively safer than riding in the front seat, children who ride unbelted are still at risk of injury. In 1997, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of child occupant deaths occurred in passenger vehicles, and just over half (52 percent) of those deaths were to children in the rear seat.

Regardless of whether states require standard or secondary enforcement of their belt laws, the majority of state safety belt laws apply only to occupants in the front seat. In a number of these states the child restraint law only covers children up to age four. This means that no law requires children older than four years of age to be properly restrained when riding in the back seat. To protect infant and child passengers, state safety belt and child restraint laws must complement each other and provide comprehensive coverage for all children in all seating positions and in all circumstances.


States should immediately act to close the gaps in child restraint laws;

States should extend mandatory safety belt use laws to all occupants, regardless of age, to all seating positions, and in all circumstances.


Motorcycle crashes claim the lives of more than 2,100 riders, and injure an additional 54,000 each year. Because motorcyclists are largely unprotected in a crash, they are 16 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a traffic crash, and 4 times as likely to be injured. Head injury is the leading cause of death and serious injury in motorcycle crashes and the most effective way to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries is the use of helmets.

Helmeted riders have up to a 73 percent lower fatality rate than unhelmeted riders, and the use of helmets has up to an 85 percent reduction in the incidence of injury. Even though helmet use is not universal, helmets saved the lives of approximately 7,940 riders from 1984 to 1996.

In addition to saving lives and reducing injuries, helmet use reduces the strain on public resources. Health care costs associated with head injuries are higher for unhelmeted riders than they are for helmeted riders. Estimates show that motorcycle helmet use saved $1.3 billion in economic costs from 1984 to 1997. An additional $9.8 billion would have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets during this 13-year period.

All-rider helmet laws have been shown to dramatically increase helmet use, and therefore, reduce fatality rates. Helmet use is reportedly near 100 percent in states with helmet use laws covering all motorcycle riders. Motorcycle fatality rates are also lower in states with all-rider use laws. For example, California experienced a 40 percent decline in motorcycle fatalities in 1993, the second full year under the state helmet law, compared to 1991, the last year prior to the helmet law taking effect, according to a University of California study. During this period 239 lives were saved by the helmet requirement.

Maryland has also experienced dramatic safety and economic benefits since that state's motorcycle helmet law went into effect in 1992. Between 1992 and 1997 fatalities were lowered by 50 percent, from 54 to 27, and associated annual costs also fell from $40 million to $20 million. The number of motorcycle-related serious injuries also went down from 621 in 1991 to 329 in 1994, a 47 percent reduction.

Nevertheless, only 22 states and the District of Columbia require helmet use for all riders. Twenty-five other states have laws that only cover some riders, most often those who are younger than age 18. Three states, Colorado, Illinois, and Iowa, do not have any law requiring helmet use. Despite the effectiveness of all-rider helmet laws, some state legislatures have been reluctant to pass these laws, and in some states that have enacted all-rider helmet laws there are movements to repeal the law.

One of the most prevalent myths that opponents use in their lobbying efforts is that helmets impair sight and hearing. However, there is sufficient evidence to show that, in fact, helmets do not obstruct critical vision. Helmets may reduce the loudness of sounds but they do not affect the rider's ability to distinguish between different sounds.

Another frequently made claim is that age-specific helmet restrictions are an effective substitute for all-rider laws. Statistics show that the helmet use rate in states with age-specific helmet laws varies between 28 and 40 percent -- nowhere close to the near 100 percent use rate reported in states with all-rider helmet laws. Age-specific helmet laws are not only ineffective, but they also complicate enforcement efforts because it is difficult to determine the precise age of motorcyclists while they are riding motorcycles.


Congress should require that states enact all-rider motorcycle helmet laws or face the loss of federal-aid highway funds;

States that do not have an all-rider motorcycle helmet law should enact such a law;

States that do have all-rider motorcycle helmet laws should oppose any efforts to repeal or weaken those laws.


Bicycling has become a serious mode of transportation for a solid core of citizens. Although not a motorized form of transportation, bicycles are used as an alternative means of transportation for commuters and bicycle couriers are frequently used by offices in large cities. Conflicts between motor vehicles and bicycles are increasing on American roads. As bicycles become a larger part of the traffic mix, laws governing bicycle safety need to be reevaluated and improved to address the safety issues presented by bicycles on the roadway.

The largest portion of the population using bicycles, however, is children. Nearly 28 million children, 70 percent of those between the ages of our and 15, ride bicycles. Second only to automobiles, bicycles are associated with more childhood injuries than any other consumer product. Bicycle related deaths per million people rise rapidly beginning at about 5 years old and are highest among 11 and 14 year-old bicyclists. A large percentage of the deaths and injuries can be attributed to the fact that only 69 percent of children under age 16 wear bicycle helmets on a regular basis, according to a survey of parents. In bicycle-related crashes, head injury is the leading cause of death for riders, causing an estimated 900 deaths annually. The National SAFE KIDS Campaign predicts that universal use of bicycle helmets would prevent between 135 and 155 deaths, between 39,000 and 45,000 head injuries, and between 18,000 and 55,000 scalp and face injuries each year.

The failure to use bicycle helmets also carries a significant economic price tag. It is estimated that bicycle-related injuries cost society $3.2 billion annually. Health care costs are much lower when individuals wear bicycle helmets. According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, for children ages 4 to 15, every $10 bike helmet saves $430 in direct health care costs, $95 in other tangible costs and $270 in quality of life costs.

When helmet laws are enacted, the percentage of people who wear helmets increases and bicycle-related injuries and fatalities decrease. Since the first helmet law was enacted in California in 1986, the use of helmets has contributed to a significant reduction in bicycle-related fatalities. Oregon, which enacted a helmet law in 1994, and New Jersey, which did likewise in 1997, experienced similar dramatic declines in bicycle-related head injuries. Research also indicates that the national bicycle injury death rate among children ages 14 and under declined more than 50 percent between 1987 and 1996 due to the passage of helmet laws. During this nine year span, 14 states and approximately 60 local governments enacted bicycle helmet laws. The majority of these laws are age-specific and do not cover all riders.


States should enact or upgrade bicycle safety laws to require all-rider helmet use;

States should conduct education programs for bicyclists and those that share the road with bicycles,

States should plan for roadway infrastructure and trail improvements to better accommodate bicycles.


Pickup trucks have become increasingly popular with consumers over the past decade. Light trucks (including sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks) make up about 50 percent of all new vehicles sold. Pickup trucks are not just being used as work vehicles to haul cargo, they are also being used as passenger vehicles and, quite frequently, as family vehicles to transport children. One major safety problem associated with pickup trucks is the fatalities and injuries that occur when people ride in the rear cargo areas or cargo beds.

Pickup truck cargo beds are not intended for passenger transport regardless of whether the cargo area is open or covered with a cap. Over 200 people die each year as a result of riding in the cargo area of pickup trucks and more than half of the deaths are children and teenagers. A Washington state study reported that the risk of fatality for persons riding in the cargo areas of pickup trucks is more than 10 times higher than the risk to the general population of occupants involved in traffic collisions. The primary cause of injury and death for pickup truck passengers is ejection from the cargo area during a collision.

Most non-collision deaths are caused by falls due to swerving, braking or dangerous road conditions. In most cases the passenger who was injured or killed was seated in the cargo bed, but one-third of the victims were standing up, sitting on the tail-gate or "horsing around." Passengers riding in covered cargo areas are unrestrained and are highly susceptible to injury during crashes and sudden movements of the vehicle, and they are also exposed to the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust fumes.

Despite the documented hazards of allowing passengers to ride in cargo areas, fewer than half of U.S. states have laws prohibiting this dangerous practice. Of the twenty-two states that do have laws prohibiting passengers in cargo areas, most have exceptions, only apply to children under a certain age, or only apply under certain circumstances. New Jersey is the only state that prohibits any passenger of any age from riding in the cargo area under all circumstances. In order to prevent future fatalities as the number of pickup trucks on the road increases, states must enact laws that prohibit all passengers from riding in the cargo areas of pickup trucks at all times.


States should enact laws to prohibit passenger use of the rear cargo bed of pickup trucks under all circumstances.


Drinking and driving is the most frequently committed violent crime in America. There are approximately 1.4 million arrests annually for driving under the influence, and it has been estimated that another 2,000 alcohol-impaired driving trips occur for every arrest made. Alcohol continues to be the single greatest factor in highway deaths and injuries. In 1997, over 16,000 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes and an additional 327,000 persons were injured. This number of deaths on the roads is equivalent to a major airplane crash every week for the entire year. Not only does impaired driving cost lives, but there is also a high economic price that society pays. The direct costs of alcohol-related crashes are estimated to be $45 billion every year.

Largely due to the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and other victims' groups, the past decade has experienced a decrease in alcohol-related highway fatalities. However, the population which constitutes the largest percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes, young males ages 21 to 34, has also been decreasing during this time. While this segment of society is predicted to continue decreasing through 2001, it is expected to then increase rapidly through the first half of the next century. In addition, the growth of the under 21 driving population is also expected to increase. The anticipated growth of this group raises specific concerns that alcohol-related highway deaths will increase once again unless important changes are made in the way our nation, the federal and state governments address the issues related to impaired driving.

Adoption of tougher laws and penalties, including use of ignition nterlock devices for repeat offenders and vehicle confiscation are effective means to crack down further on drunk driving. Despite the fact they are often politically unpopular, Highway Trust Fund sanctions have played a crucial role in achieving national uniformity in impaired driving policy, resulting in thousands of lives saved. Two examples are the 21-year-old drinking age and zero tolerance laws which were adopted by all 50 states shortly after the threat of sanctions was imposed by Congress. In 1998, the U.S. Senate passed a bill containing trust fund sanctions for states that did not pass .08% BAC laws, but the proposal failed to pass the House of Representatives.

Strong, comprehensive and uniform laws and increased enforcement efforts are crucial if we are to achieve the goal of preventing and reducing alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes in the coming years and into the next century.


As the 20th century draws to a close, drinking alcohol and driving remains one of the most serious threats to public safety. It is the most frequently committed violent crime in the nation. Although great strides have been made in reducing the toll of highway deaths resulting from alcohol-impaired driving in the past decade, in 1997 over 38 percent of highway fatalities, more than 16,000 people, died in alcohol-related crashes.

Studies have revealed that some individuals begin to experience divided attention and deficits in steering and tracking with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) as low as .02% BAC. By the time alcohol levels reach .08% BAC, scientific studies have concluded that every driver lacks vital driving skills. For this reason, most industrialized nations in the world have set alcohol limits below .10% BAC. Sweden has a limit of .02% BAC. France, Finland, Australia, and Norway have set .05% BAC as their national limit, and Great Britain, Canada, Switzerland, and Austria are at .08% BAC.

In the U.S., setting legal impairment limits has generally been left to state authorities. Thirty three states retain .10% BAC as their legal limit for driving while intoxicated. However, seventeen states and the District of Columbia have adopted .08% BAC as the legal limit. In addition, under the congressional threat of the loss of highway funding, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that require zero tolerance (.02% BAC or less) for drivers under age 21, the minimum drinking age in every state. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Transportation has established a federal limit of .04% BAC for professional truck and bus drivers.

The President has recognized the importance of .08% BAC laws. On March 3, 1998, he launched an initiative that sought a federal standard of .08% BAC for our nation's roads. The President also established a national goal to reduce the number of alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities, to 11,000 by the year 2005. Recent studies have concluded that a combination of stricter laws, including .08% BAC limits, can significantly reduce alcohol-related fatalities. One such study estimated that 275 lives were saved in 1997 as a result of .08% BAC laws and that, if all 50 states had such laws, another 590 lives could have been saved.

Instead, Congress has attempted to entice states to enact .08% BAC laws through incentive grant programs. More than a year after the .08% BAC incentive grants were established in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), only one state has enacted a new .08% BAC law. The added additional funding from the incentive grant program has not played a major role in the consideration of .08% BAC laws in state legislatures. Experience has demonstrated that incentive grant programs are not the most effective means of improving public health and safety.

By contrast, programs that withhold federal highway funds have been very effective in motivating state governments. Two successful examples are the National 21 Minimum Drinking Age Law signed into effect by President Reagan in 1984, and the National Zero Alcohol Content Law for Youth, or zero tolerance law mentioned above, signed by President Clinton in 1995. All 50 states now have these lifesaving laws because of federal leadership, and no withholding program has ever caused a state to lose federal funds.

Driving while impaired is a national issue that crosses state and regional borders. The National 21 Minimum Drinking Age Law was enacted because of the "blood borders" that were created when adjacent states had different drinking age laws. Just as the danger posed by an intoxicated driver does not change when the driver crosses state lines, neither should the legal test for sobriety. Federal legislation requiring states to adopt .08% BAC laws is essential. National legislation on impaired driving issues, including .08% BAC, has overwhelming public support. A Lou Harris poll conducted for Advocates in 1998 found that 89 percent of the public believes the federal government should set strict rules about highway safety. Other surveys have found similar results showing that seven out of 10 adults favor .08% BAC limit.


Congress should require that states enact .08% BAC as the legal limit for imposing criminal sanctions for drunk driving offenses or face the loss of federal aid highway funds;

States that have a legal limit of .10% BAC should adopt .08% BAC as their legal limit for drunk driving offenses.


Approximately one-third of the 1.4 million people arrested in 1998 for driving while under the influence of alcohol, or driving while intoxicated, were repeat offenders. These drivers, already convicted of at least one impaired driving offense, were arrested and prosecuted for committing additional, subsequent impaired driving offenses. Repeat offenders tend to be chronic impaired drivers, generally exhibiting higher rates of alcoholism or alcohol-related problems. Repeat offenders also have a greater risk of involvement in, and are over-represented in, fatal crashes. Addressing the problems of repeat offenders becomes difficult because they are less responsive to the effects of traditional legal sanctions, such as license suspension and incarceration.

In order to deal with the problem of repeat offenders, Congress included in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) a provision that requires states to enact repeat offender laws before October 1, 2000, or have a percentage of their federal-aid highway funds redirected from highway construction to safety programs.

State repeat offender laws must include a number of specific elements in order to meet the requirements of the legislation: imposing a minimum one year driver's license suspension; mandatory minimum sentence for second offenses of at least five days incarceration or 30 days of community service, and for third offenses of at least 10 days incarceration or 60 days of community service; impoundment of the repeat offenders' vehicle during the license suspension period, or the installation of an ignition interlock system on the vehicle after an offender's license is reinstated; and, mandatory assessment of a repeat offenders' alcohol abuse and referral to treatment as appropriate.

The program considers a repeat offender to be anyone who has been convicted of driving impaired more than once within a five year period. Three states, Maine, Michigan, and New Hampshire, had laws which included these provisions when TEA-21 was enacted. Indiana, Nebraska, and Arkansas will be in compliance by the October, 2000 deadline. Other states have yet to take action to ensure that repeat offenders will be subject to minimum levels of punishment and rehabilitation.


States should expeditiously enact repeat offender laws that comply with or exceed the requirements of federal law.


Contributing to the problem of driving while impaired are the laws in many states that permit open containers of alcoholic beverages inside the passenger compartment of moving vehicles.

Studies have shown that possession of open containers of alcoholic beverages in the passenger compartment of motor vehicles is associated with a high crash rate regardless of whether the driver has consumed any alcohol. A survey on this issue reported that of those who admitted to driving while impaired, 96 percent revealed that they recently drank in a moving motor vehicle as either a passenger or a driver. An effective method of reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road is to prohibit both the possession of open alcoholic beverage containers and the consumption of alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles.

Only 20 states have open container laws that prohibit both possession and consumption by all vehicle occupants, and five states still permit drivers to drink alcohol while driving. Among the states that do have open container laws, the provisions vary significantly and many have exceptions that undermine the effectiveness of the law. Some prohibit the possession of open containers in a motor vehicle but do not actually ban the consumption of alcohol. Other laws prohibit consumption of alcoholic beverages but do not specifically prohibit the possession of open containers. These laws are difficult to enforce because a law enforcement officer must actually witness the driver drinking from an open container in order to take action. Still other laws apply only to the driver, not occupants, and, in some cases, only if the driver's blood alcohol level equals or exceeds .04% BAC. Further, laws that allow open containers in easily accessible areas of the vehicle, such as the area behind the last upright seat in vehicles without a separate trunk compartment (as in popular SUV models), invite violations of the law. Open container laws are most effective if they contain provisions that ban both possession and consumption, apply to all vehicle occupants, and cover the entire passenger area of the vehicle.

In order to address this issue, Congress passed an open container law provision in the

Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). That provision requires states to enact and enforce open container laws that: prohibit both possession of any alcoholic beverage container and consumption of any alcoholic beverage; apply to all open containers of any alcoholic beverage; apply to all vehicle occupants (with certain reasonable exceptions); cover the passenger area of any motor vehicle (except locked glove compartments, trunks, or the rear storage area of passenger vehicles not equipped with a trunk); apply to vehicles on a public highway; and, is subject to standard (primary) enforcement. Currently, only fourteen states are in compliance, the remaining states have until October 1, 2000, to comply with the Federal law and avoid having highway construction funds redirected to safety programs.


States should enact laws that comply with or exceed the federal minimum requirements for laws to prohibit the transportation of open containers of alcoholic beverages.


Administrative License Revocation (ALR), or suspension, provides a means for immediately removing impaired drivers from the road. ALR laws permit police officers to take the licenses of drivers suspected of impaired driving who fail a chemical test or who refuse to take the chemical test required by state law. The immediate loss of driving privileges sends a strong message to drunk drivers. Forty states and the District of Columbia currently have some version of ALR. These laws also enjoy strong public support, with 77 percent of those surveyed in a 1994 Gallup poll favoring the authority to take away a driver's license as a means to reduce impaired driving.

ALR laws provide drivers with a right to a prompt administrative hearing to appeal the arrest, the results of the chemical test and the license revocation. Before ALR laws were in place, license revocations could be ordered only by a judge or magistrate at an administrative or criminal hearing. As a result, nearly all accused impaired drivers requested hearings, often as a means of delaying the license revocation. Since the immediate taking of the license under ALR is independent of the hearing request, hearing requests decreased significantly in states with ALR. Furthermore, when criminal charges were involved, offenders could often avoid license revocation as well as other serious penalties by plea bargaining. ALR imposes an immediate administrative punishment that is independent of any criminal prosecution.

In addition to eliminating the immediate danger that impaired drivers pose to the public, ALR also serves as a deterrent to others who might drink and drive. In fact, 91 percent of those surveyed in the Gallup poll said that losing their license would discourage them from drinking and driving. Strict enforcement and educational campaigns about ALR laws have increased public awareness of the laws and the consequences of impaired driving.

Opponents of ALR argue that these laws violate an offender's right to due process and may constitute double jeopardy if they are later prosecuted for drunk driving. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has upheld the constitutionality of ALR laws in both instances. Another claim used to attack ALR is that the penalty affects the offender's ability to get to work. This argument has not been substantiated and one survey has indicated that immediate license revocation does not result in loss of employment or income for offenders. The same survey found no difference between ALR states and non-ALR states in the percent of impaired driving offenders who were unemployed one month after arrest.

Effective state ALR laws include: authority for the arresting officer to immediately take the drivers license; the right to a prompt hearing without delaying the revocation; an initial revocation period of at least 90 days, with a 30-day "hard" suspension; and a criminal proceeding which has no bearing on the administrative action taken regarding the license.


States should adopt ALR laws that provide for immediate license revocation.


States are experimenting with new ways to deter impaired driving and to punish those who nevertheless drink and drive. Beyond the traditional sanctions such as fines, jail sentences and license suspension, new approaches are being explored to find more effective ways of reducing drunk driving. Home detention has been introduced as an alternative to jail, visible markings or"branding" of license plates serve to indicate that the driver has a suspended license, ignition interlocks are used to prevent an offender from driving while impaired again, and vehicle immobilization, impoundment and forfeiture relieve offenders of their vehicles.

While incarceration has been used for felony offenses, long term detention for misdemeanor alcohol-related driving offenses has not proven to be an ideal solution because it is expensive and burdens already overcrowded prisons. Alternatives to incarceration are being tested and include programs such as electronic monitoring of home detention. An offender is monitored by an electronic system that permits offenders to work, attend school, and participate in treatment and education programs. This alternative is less costly and minimizes the interference in the offender's daily life and affords the offender an opportunity to develop new behavior patterns while in a stable, familiar, environment.

In addition to criminal sanctions such as jail sentences or home detention, states are imposing separate administrative penalties. Administrative sanctions may begin with license suspension, however, as many as 70 percent of offenders continue to drive while under suspension. In response, some states have implemented a system to mark vehicles of drivers under suspension with special license plates or stickers affixed to the regular plates. This visual signal alerts law enforcement officers who can stop and verify that the driver has a valid license. This system restricts the driving of offenders whose licenses have been suspended while continuing to allow other family members to use the vehicle.

States have also enacted laws that immobilize the offender's vehicle and can be used in conjunction with license suspension. Immobilization is accomplished by ignition interlock devices that allow for controlled use of the vehicle; impoundment or use of a device such as a boot or a club prevents the use of the vehicle for limited periods of time; and forfeiture permanently deprives the offender of the vehicle.

Ignition interlock devices are installed on an offender's vehicle to prevent operation if the driver's blood alcohol concentration as measured by a sample of the driver's breath is above a predetermined level (often .025% BAC). This grants offenders full driving privileges so long as they are not impaired, while also allowing family members to continue to use the vehicle. In Maryland, the interlock program reduced the risk of an alcohol traffic violation within the first year by 65 percent. In 1997, 35 states had legislation that allowed ignition interlocks to be imposed on chronic, repeat and, in some cases, even first-time offenders.

States are also immobilizing vehicles of offenders through the use of a device such as a boot or club or through impoundment. As an initial administrative response, many states allow for the overnight impoundment of the vehicle of an individual arrested for impaired driving. Some states permit longer periods of impoundment for offenses such as repeat driving while intoxicated or driving while suspended if the suspension was for an alcohol-related driving offense. California law has a 30-day impoundment provision and the state has experienced substantially fewer subsequent offenses, traffic convictions, and crashes among offenders.

In 22 states, repeat offenders may be forced to forfeit their vehicles. If the offender is convicted, the forfeited vehicle is sold at auction. Most forfeiture laws apply only to repeat offenders who continue to drive while impaired despite other sanctions previously imposed upon them. Because forfeiture creates complications including preserving the rights of non-offender owners, many states remain reluctant to impose this sanction or impose it only on recidivists.

In New York City, the forfeiture policy has been taken one step further. As of February 22, 1999, the vehicle of anyone arrested for driving while impaired regardless of their previous record is confiscated on arrest. Officials felt this extension of the forfeiture laws was necessary since 87 percent of impaired driving-related deaths in New York are caused by first time offenders. Between February 22 and April 12, 1999, the number of alcohol-related crashes dropped by 29 percent compared to the previous year. During the same time period, arrests for driving while intoxicated and driving while impaired decreased by 14 percent. The constitutionality of the law has been upheld by both state and federal courts based on the theory that a vehicle operated by an impaired driver is a weapon used to facilitate a crime.

While no single solution exists to prevent impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel of a car, states continue to explore the use of alternative sanctions such as home detention, marked license plates, ignition interlock, and vehicle impoundment and forfeiture. These non-traditional methods have already reduced the number of alcohol-related crashes and fatalities in some states and localities.


States need to adopt measures that will keep repeat offenders off the road, including

vehicle immobilization, forfeiture and use of interlock devices as additional penalties for impaired driving.


It has become rapidly apparent in recent years that driving is a complex task requiring high levels of cognitive processing, good skills and reasonable physical condition and alertness or attentiveness. It also has become evident that a large percentage of drivers are impaired due to fatigue or chronic lack of sleep. Most importantly, there is rising awareness that driving while fatigued dramatically compounds the dangers of operating a motor vehicle.

Statistics on the prevalence of crashes due directly to drivers with low alertness or in the first stages of sleep are unreliable because many surviving drivers deny that they were drowsy or even fail to recognize that they suffered a short or "micro-sleep" episode which resulted in a loss of vehicle control. Surveys, however, have been conducted both of passenger vehicle drivers and truck drivers in which more than 25 percent of passenger vehicle drivers and a startling 60 percent or more of large truck drivers admit having fallen asleep at the wheel. Reliable findings on the incidence of fatigued or drowsy driver crash involvement also have been produced from carefully controlled research studies with commercial drivers. For example, studies conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board in the 1990s indicate that perhaps as many as one out of three fatal heavy truck crashes are due to fatigued truck drivers.

Fatigued driving is a problem which affects all age groups, but especially young drivers and truck and bus drivers. Sleep deprivation stems from a variety of causes, but is largely the result of either too little sleep or sleep attempted on an irregular basis due to changing work schedules, called shiftwork.

Research indicates, for example, that young people in school not only need more sleep, but in fact regularly live day by day in a state of chronic sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation among young drivers is due to late night socializing, especially on weekends, which often results in a youthful operator at the controls of a car in the early morning hours. The traffic safety implications are evident. Many of these young drivers suffer serious losses of alertness and some even fall asleep at the wheel with tragic consequences. Use of alcohol and illicit drugs compound the problem and further increase the chances of a crash.

Truck and bus drivers, especially those in long-haul freight carriage, are prone to the dangerous effects of sleep deprivation while driving large trucks because current federal hours-of-service regulations, which govern driver on- and off-duty time, permit constantly alternating work/rest cycles which violate basic human biological needs for sleep. Current federal hours-of-service rules allow commercial drivers to work and rest on an 18-hour cycle (10 hours driving, 8 hours rest time), a major reason for widespread sleep deprivation among truck and bus operators. This cycle can lead to a constantly changing work schedule and lead to inevitable lapses at the wheel and often catastrophic crashes, especially between midnight and dawn. The safety problems of this schedule are magnified by allowing truck drivers to split their sleeping time into two segments in truck cab sleeper berths.

Multiple strategies are needed to address the problems of sleep-deprived drivers. In general, society needs to alter its attitudes about sleep and safety so that the need for sleep is not regarded as a shortcoming. Regardless of general societal views, educational efforts about the dangers of fatigued driving and the need for adequate sleep are essential to parallel those which have made a distinct difference in the prevalence of alcohol-related driving. For young drivers, school scheduling times should be evaluated, and graduated licensing can help reduce the exposure of a large portion of the youngest drivers to the risk of late night driving.

Dealing with driving for commercial purposes requires several policy choices involving revised hours of service regulations, increasing the off-duty rest time of truck and bus drivers and protecting that time against interruption by dispatchers and consignees, motor carrier safety management schemes providing ample advance notice to drivers of scheduling changes, and careful control over the amount of late night commercial driving. These and other actions, such as automated vehicle tracking and recordation of commercial driver duty time, are necessary to redress the balance between the demands of commerce and the need for enhanced public safety on our highways.

Finally, society in general and government regulators and officials need to realize that fatigued or drowsy driving is pervasive and a major issue in traffic safety alongside alcohol and illicit drug use which can only be reduced through a combination of sustained public education efforts and judicious choices in how we manage vehicle operations on our highways, especially those involving motor carriers.


FHWA should revise current hours of service regulations to increase truck and bus driver off-duty rest time, to protect that off-duty time against interruption and to prohibit any increase in driving time beyond 10 hours;

FHWA should require the use of automated vehicle tracking and recordation of commercial driver duty time;

NHTSA should develop a sustained public education effort to advise the public of the dangers of fatigued driving;

States should enact state graduated licensing laws that limit the ability of teenage drivers to drive during late night hours.



Red light running, when a motorist deliberately enters an intersection after the signal light has turned red, has become one of the most frequent and intractable traffic offenses. Drivers who run red lights are responsible for an estimated 260,000 crashes every year, of which approximately 750 are fatal. Roughly 40 percent of motor vehicle crashes occur at or near intersections or are "intersection-related," and they are increasing in number. On a national basis, fatal motor vehicle crashes at traffic signals increased 24 percent between 1992 and 1997, compared to a 6 percent increase in all other types of fatal crashes. Red light running, a major contributor to this increase, has been successfully reduced in localities across the country through the use photographic enforcement technology.

Red light running cameras have provided communities a reliable means to enforce traffic signal violations by automatically photographing the vehicles of drivers who run red lights. Automated red light enforcement systems are connected to traffic signals and to sensors buried in the pavement at the crosswalk or stop line. Continuously monitoring the traffic signal, the camera detects vehicles that pass over the sensors at a specified interval after the signal has turned red. A photograph is taken that, in many localities, displays the offending vehicle in the intersection, records the date, time of day, the speed of the vehicle and the elapsed time since the beginning of the red signal. Tickets typically are sent by mail to the registered owner of the violating vehicle after officials review the photographic evidence. Traffic safety experts, traffic engineers and other safety professionals agree that automated photo-enforcement is an effective, cost-efficient method of deterring red light running and of fining perpetrators.

Preliminary crash data from localities employing red light running cameras have demonstrated their benefit. Data compiled in Oxnard, California showed a 42 percent reduction in red light running violations after cameras were introduced in nine intersections. A similar decline occurred at intersections that were not equipped with the cameras, suggesting a possible spillover effect and indicating that photo-enforcement has a community-wide impact. Another study showed violations declined approximately 40 percent in Fairfax, Virginia after one year of camera enforcement. Victoria, Australia experienced a 32 percent reduction in right-angle collisions and a 10 percent decrease in injuries after the cameras were installed.

Opponents of photo-enforcement technology argue that the photographs violate the privacy rights of motorists. However, privacy claims for motorists committing traffic infractions have limited appeal because drivers are required to abide by traffic ordinances and to obey traffic signals. The use of cameras is just one means to enforce these laws. Moreover, camera systems should be designed to take photos only of violators, and can be designed to photograph only the rear license plate of the vehicle and not the front windshield and the faces of the occupants.

Other opponents argue that the cameras are too expensive. While start-up costs can be expensive with cameras costing about $50,000 and installation about $5,000, a single camera can be used at several locations once the sites are set up. Additionally, cost-savings are realized from reduced crash totals, fines paid by violators, and through the more efficient use of enforcement resources.

The public continues to indicate support for strong action to deter red light running. A 1998 national public opinion poll commissioned by Advocates and conducted by Louis Harris found a decisive 65 percent majority of the public supports state adoption of red light running laws. A 1996 survey by the Insurance Research Council found that the highest support for red light cameras was in large cities, where 83 percent of respondents supported their use. Strong support is also found in communities where cameras are used. The programs mentioned above in California and Virginia were supported by 80 percent of the residents polled.

The major barrier to increased red light running enforcement is the absence of enabling legislation in many states. In fact, photo-enforcement is only authorized statewide in 12 states, the District of Columbia, and a handful of local jurisdictions that have enacted local ordinances. With the increasing danger posed by red light running and the growing public concern, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive and coordinated response to this threat.


States should enact enabling laws that permit the use of photo-enforcement systems, authorize enforcement agencies to cite red light violators by mail, and place responsibility for the violation on the vehicle owner.


After alcohol impairment, speeding is the most important contributory factor in fatal crashes. In 1997, speeding, either exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for road conditions, was a factor in 30 percent of all fatal crashes. Over 13,000 people died in speed-related crashes and 6,899 of those were killed on roads posted at 55 Miles Per Hour (MPH) or higher. Younger drivers, both male and female, tend to speed more than older drivers. As a consequence, more than one-third (37 percent) of male teenage drivers and one-quarter (25 percent) of female teenage drivers involved in fatal crashes in 1997 were speeding at the time of the crash.

Several factors contribute to make higher speeds less safe. At higher speeds the driver has much less time to perceive and react to trouble ahead. The loss of a second or less in reaction time can make the critical difference between a safe stop or avoidance maneuver and a serious crash. Also, at higher travel speeds the physical forces exerted on the vehicle and the people inside are greater when a crash does occur. An object striking a car at 65 mph hits with nearly twice the force of an impact at 55 mph. In addition, many drivers view posted speed limits as merely advisory. An increase in the posted speed limit is an invitation to these drivers to go even faster and exceed the 65 mph limit by 10 miles per hour or more. The failure of drivers to reduce speeds after leaving a 65 mph section of highway may cause a spillover effect that increases travel speeds on other roadways with lower design speeds, more congestion and lower posted speed limits.

The overall fatality rate and the total number of annual deaths are not appropriate measures of increases in speed-related fatalities. Historically, the national fatality rate has been dropping over the years for a variety of reasons. In addition, fluctuations in total deaths per year are also driven by many factors. In order to properly assess whether highway deaths are increasing as a result of higher speed limits, the annual national data must be desegregated or separated and data about particular causes of fatalities must be studied individually. When this is done it is evident that higher speed limits do lead to more deaths.

In 1974, after the national maximum speed limit was adopted, annual traffic deaths decreased by 9,000 in one year. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) determined in a 1984 study that between 3,000 and 5,000 of these lives saved were directly attributable to the effect of a uniform 55 MPH speed limit. Likewise, after Congress in 1987 allowed higher speed limits, up to 65 MPH, on rural Interstate highways, numerous studies showed a direct relationship between higher speed limits and increased fatalities on highways with higher speed limits. Those studies bore out the 1984 NAS study estimate that an increase to 65 MPH would result in 500 more deaths on Interstate highways. Most recently, when Congress repealed the National Maximum Speed Limit law in 1995, studies and state reports documented the fact that between 350 and 500 hundred more deaths occurred nationwide on roads with higher speed limits.


States should reduce speed limits on roads and highways that demonstrate an increase in crashes, fatalities or injuries;

States should effectively enforce all posted speed limits on all roadways;

States should improve the driving safety, highway design, traffic control devices and remove roadside obstacles on highways posted at 65 mph or higher in order to provide greater safety for vehicles that run off the road at high speeds;

Congress should require states to submit appropriate data on vehicle speed and speed-related crashes to NHTSA.


As the children of the Baby Boom generation, or the "Baby Boom Echo" as they are often called, come of driving age, more teenagers than ever before will be behind the wheel. By 2010, there will be a 23 percent increase in the number of 16 year-olds compared to 1995. As a result of this population surge, there will be a dramatic rise in the number of teenage crashes unless measures are taken to improve the skill level and driving behaviors of newly licensed teens.

Although teenagers drive fewer miles than most all other groups, they are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as are all drivers. In fact, motor vehicle deaths are the leading cause of death for young people 15 to 20 years of age. Because teenaged drivers lack experience behind the wheel and have a tendency to engage in risky behaviors, teenagers have the highest crash rates of all drivers. Teens are less likely than adults to perceive danger and to respond appropriately. In comparison to more mature, experienced drivers, teens are more likely to commit a driving error that leads to their own crash and are more likely to be involved in a single vehicle crash in which they are speeding, driving recklessly or over-compensating. Teenagers are also far less likely to wear safety belts and are, therefore, more vulnerable when a crash occurs. Maturity gained by even one year of driving experience drastically decreases crash rates as is evidenced by the fact that the crash rate for 17 year-olds is three times less than it is for 16 year-olds.

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems address this problem by allowing beginning drivers to acquire significant driving experience in low risk conditions and under adult supervision. GDL has been shown to be effective in reducing teenage crash rates by expanding the learning process, reducing risk exposure, improving driving proficiency, and enhancing motivation for safe driving. As a result of GDL, teenagers will be a little older and more mature when they receive full licensure and will be less likely to be involved in a fatal crash.

A three tier graduated driver licensing system is optimal. In the first stage, all driving is supervised by an adult over 21 years of age for a period of at least 6 months. During that time the number of passengers allowed in the vehicle is limited and the novice driver must comply with safety belt and alcohol laws and remain crash and conviction-free for six consecutive months. In the intermediate phase, which also lasts a minimum of six months, the teen driver may now drive without adult supervision except during certain high-risk, late night and early morning hours. All the other provisions of the learner's phase still apply. The final full license is achieved once the young driver has completed the first two stages and has successfully driven crash and conviction-free for at least twelve consecutive months.

GDL systems have proven effective in reducing fatalities and injuries among teenage drivers in many jurisdictions including Canadian provinces, New Zealand, Australia and many U.S. states. California reported a five percent reduction in crashes for drivers ages 15 to 17 after implementing a partial GDL provisional licensing program. Florida experienced a nine percent reduction in fatal and injury crash involvements for 15 to 17 year-old drivers in the first full year of its full GDL system for drivers younger than 18. Studies have found general crash reductions of up to 60 percent during night-time restricted driving hours in states with enforced night driving restrictions for young beginning drivers.

Along with implementation of GDL systems, states can also incorporate innovative driver education programs. Teenage crash rates have continued to climb despite traditional driver education programs which teach teens basic driving skills as well as the effects of driving while impaired. In efforts to change this trend, new driver education programs have been expanded to include a focus on teenagers' attitudes about driving. These programs are directed at reducing the impact of peer pressure and risk-taking tendencies on the teen driver. With the GDL system as its foundation, this approach spreads learning over two extended periods. The first stage of driver education occurs while the novice driver holds a learner's permit during which only basic vehicle handling skills and the rules of the road are taught. The second stage of the driver education program occurs during the intermediate phase and focuses on safe driving skills. Teaching safe driving skills after the novice has obtained behind-the-wheel experience and a minimum level of vehicle control is intended to enable the teen driver to more effectively concentrate on developing safe driving procedures.


States should adopt three-tier graduated licensing systems for teenage drivers.


As we grow older the natural effects of the aging process, including slower perception-reaction time and poorer eyesight, affect our ability to perform the driving task. This fact merely reflects a decline in a range of functional capabilities that accompany aging. Thus, while older drivers have more experience, drivers over the age of 69 are still twice as likely as middle-aged drivers to be involved in fatal car crashes. In addition, because of increasing life expectancy and good health, people 85 years of age and older are the fastest growing cohort of registered drivers. This safety concern will expand as the Baby Boom generation begins to reach retirement age in little more than a decade. There is expected to be a 60 percent growth of the 65-plus population between now and the year 2020.

Certainly, not all older drivers or even those of the same age have the same driving ability. Many older drivers are excellent drivers who are frequently more careful, more likely to obey traffic laws, and more experienced than younger drivers. However, some older citizens continue to drive after they become unsafe to themselves and to others. Because of the wide range of abilities, older drivers should not be treated uniformly and the decisions of whether someone should continue to drive needs to be based on individual assessments.

Currently, self-regulation is the primary method by which older drivers monitor their driving. Drivers use self-assessment to determine when they should reduce or eliminate certain driving practices. Consequently, many current older drivers have opted to stop driving or eliminate higher risk conditions such as driving at night, in inclement weather, during rush hours, or on interstate highways. However, older drivers of the future, including the Baby Boomers who are nearing retirement, will have grown up in an era when the automobile became a pervasive and essential part of daily life. As a result, these new older drivers may be less likely to elect to limit their driving as much as older drivers have in the past. This trend is exemplified by surveys which reveal that in each year since 1969 the average miles driven by those 65 and over have increased. As a result, self-regulation may not be as effective in the future.

In addition to self-regulation, "graduated licensing" systems for older drivers have been proposed to address this issue. Much like traditional graduated driver licensing is used to allow new drivers to adjust to increasingly more difficult driving situations, graduated systems for older drivers operate in reverse, reducing driving privileges according to the drivers' ability to handle the demands of different types of driving situations. Instead of placing the burden on the individual to make often difficult decisions based on self-assessment alone, this form of "graduated licensing" allows trained professional licensing authorities to assist by making evaluations of driving skills. Under such systems, a driver's license can be custom tailored to the driver's specific abilities and may include such limitations as day driving only, use of special equipment like wide-angle mirrors or requiring a companion in the car.

Different states have implemented varying solutions. While some states provide that older drivers must renew their licenses more frequently without retesting, others require vision and road tests to be taken after a certain age, typically 65 or 70. Other states empower examiners to find a solution that is user-friendly to older drivers in order to maintain as much mobility and independence as is safely possible.

Most recently, Missouri has adopted a new approach to help regulate drivers as their abilities change. Peace officers, health personnel, and close relatives can file a report stating that a driver cannot safely operate a motor vehicle. The report must be based on personal observation or physical evidence and can be filed confidentially. The state must then investigate to determine whether the reported driver should retain driving privileges. The state can require the driver to retake the driver's license written and road tests. The state is then able to limit the driver's license according to ability, suspend or revoke the license, require a driver to take the driving exam again, and require a driver to complete a physical or mental examination. Drivers who fail the written and road tests can be retested at a later date. This approach is considered beneficial since it focuses on continuing driving privileges based solely on ability, not the age, of the driver.

As a growing proportion of our driving population falls into a higher-risk category for crashes, efforts must be made to retain the mobility of older citizens while promoting safety on the roads for everyone. As a society, we can make changes that appropriately balance these concerns as the proportion of older drivers increases.


States should explore reasonable graduated licensing systems for older drivers that

incorporate individual evaluations of driver performance based on consideration of driving skills rather than on chronological age alone.


Widespread cellular telephone use, already a subject of considerable concern to traffic safety advocates, has recently been accompanied by another source of driver distraction: in-vehicle displays. Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) and interactive computer screens, in-vehicle fax machines, and even television sets and computer monitors within the driver's view, have recently been introduced in new models of cars and light trucks. In addition, in-vehicle displays, such as Doppler Radar collision warning systems and other screens, are gaining favor in the motor carrier industry to monitor vehicle and driver parameters for both safety purposes and regulatory compliance.

It is obvious that these new devices increase the chances of diverting attention from the driving task and lower the ability to perform often complex maneuvers at the wheel. NHTSA has compiled a long list of cellular telephone studies conducted in recent years which show that relative crash risk is significantly increased with drivers using cell telephones while underway, even if the telephones are "hands-free" designs. No doubt telephones are used to report crashes but this does not override the safety concern that they contribute to crashes when used while driving. In addition, automated crash notification would eliminate the need for manual reporting of crashes by telephone. NHTSA, however, has not responded to the need to evaluate safety risks and acted to control the proliferation of in-vehicle displays and other distractions which can lower the level of driver attention to safely operating a vehicle and result in more crashes.


NHTSA should develop human factors criteria and determine needs for driver attention;

NHTSA should regulate the proliferation of in-vehicle displays;

NHTSA should regulate the proliferation of other in-vehicle technology that can divert driver attention.


Although some might think a discussion of highway design is misplaced here, in fact, one of the key deficiencies in geometric design and traffic engineering recognized repeatedly over the years is the failure to produce design standards and practices carefully indexed to different types of theoretical "design drivers" that are representative of segments of the driving population.

Unfortunately, no consistent criteria derived from driver capabilities have governed major road design parameters such as passing and stopping sight distance, intersection sight distance, perception-reaction times, static and dynamic visual acuity (and Useful Field of View), and other important human factors which ultimately control how well or badly drivers negotiate roads and streets. Although some criteria are derived from human factors studies, many of these studies are outdated and often the product of research which relied on driver behavior and skills of youthful operators rather than older or short-statured drivers.

It is noteworthy that the major geometric design guides and traffic engineering manuals currently relied on by practitioners deal with human factors issues on a piecemeal basis - no coherent and comprehensive treatment of the basic human skills and capabilities to safely perform the driving task is provided. It is clear that this fundamental shortcoming of highway and traffic engineering standards continues to allow inconsistent road and traffic control device designs which fail to meet the needs of a large part of the driving population and, more importantly, which reduce the margins of safe operation to unacceptable levels.


FHWA should develop a uniform set of human factors criteria which specify "design drivers" governing highway geometric design and traffic engineering standards.




The highway and its complementary traffic engineering design is a complex subject which needs individual attention in this Report to emphasize the public health implications of how well or badly the operating environment provides for safe and efficient use by motorists.

Although behavioral changes are both necessary and desirable to improve traffic safety, the fundamental premise of highway engineering is to anticipate and compensate for human errors so that people are given a chance to make mistakes without serious risk to their lives.

The basic goal of good highway and traffic engineering design is to assure drivers that their moment-to-moment decisions in carrying out the driving task are guided and reinforced by both predictable and safe highway design features. This theory and practice, called "Positive Guidance," means that drivers should not be subject to unexpected conditions or surprises while driving on a road or street. Unfortunately, there are still many tens of thousands of miles of roads and streets in the U.S. which repeatedly violate this hallmark of good highway design by demanding rapid responses from unprepared drivers in order to avoid a crash.

These brief considerations show that designing and managing the highway environment should be consistent with the basic concepts of the Haddon Matrix. The job of the geometric designer and traffic engineer is twofold. First, to prevent crashes by keeping the driver on a safe travel path with consistent and predictable alignment and as few conflicts with other vehicles as practicable. Second, when crashes nevertheless occur, provide operating conditions which either reduce the chances of a collision or ensure that collisions do not have severe consequences.


Vehicle conflicts at intersections produce an overabundance of severe crashes with fatalities and serious injuries. Estimates by NHTSA and other organizations indicate that more than 40 percent of all fatalities occur in vehicle collisions at or near intersections. This figure includes crashes resulting from any crossing conflicts, including ramp merging areas, driveways, and divided highway median crossovers. Between 1992 and 1996 fatal crashes at intersections increased by 19 percent compared to only a six percent increase for all other types of fatal crashes. A recent study by the State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) has reinforced these statistics finding that 32 percent of all crashes occur at intersections. Based on 1998 policyholder claims data, the State Farm study compiled a list of dangerous intersections throughout the nation, providing a national context for intersection safety.

Intersection conflicts and crashes pose dangers to both vehicle occupants and pedestrians. In crashes at intersections vehicle occupants are vulnerable to severe injury and death because the majority of the collisions involve side impacts into one of the vehicles. As discussed earlier, side impacts have higher rates of deaths and serious injuries because there is comparatively little vehicle protective structure to safeguard occupants in the struck vehicle.

Pedestrians are particularly vulnerable when they cross a road because a driver failing to obey the direction of signs, markings, and signals can easily kill or seriously injure a pedestrian. Regular violation of crosswalk requirements pose safety dangers at intersections. Drivers frequently fail to notice poorly marked crosswalks or ignore the need to stop for pedestrians who are in, or about to enter, a crosswalk. Pedestrians may be forced into conflicts with vehicles where no crosswalk is provided, or in construction zones where no adequately marked crossing is provided. One of the many problems with current traffic engineering criteria for addressing safe pedestrian crossing of highways and streets, is the inadequate time allotted by most traffic control signals for older citizens and those with ambulatory disabilities to cross busy streets. Many thousands of intersections permit pedestrian crossing, yet their signals are timed to provide for the maximum movement of vehicle, not pedestrian, traffic. The result is a street crossing pace which cannot be met by a large percentage of people, especially older pedestrians, and those in wheelchairs. Collisions could be avoided if a better balance were struck between the competing needs of pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

As a result, the issue of intersection safety is a growing concern to the American public. This fact is reflected in the Louis Harris poll results on intersection safety released by Advocates. In the survey, 85 percent of those asked said that more attention should given to making dangerous intersections safer for pedestrians. Over half of the participants, 57 percent, stated that much greater attention should be focused on intersection safety. This issue includes changes to the physical infrastructure such as dedicated left turn lanes, better traffic control devices and changing traffic signal timing. The poll also found strong support among those polled for the use of photo radar as a supplement to police enforcement in order to improve driver behavior at intersections. Seventy-four percent supported the use of this technology.

Intersection design is crucial to safe vehicle operations because vehicle crossing conflicts must be controlled by a carefully selected mix of traffic control devices (signs, pavement markings, and signals), specific geometric design features, and traffic management decisions affecting pedestrian movement, traffic volumes, vehicle type, and parking practices, among other things. Engineering intersections to ensure high levels of safety for both vehicle occupants and pedestrians while simultaneously avoiding congestion is a complex task.

Without a high level of voluntary compliance, intersection safety rapidly declines. As traffic volume grows there is increasing disregard by drivers of traffic control laws and devices, especially violations of stop and yield signs, signals (red lights), and pedestrian crossing controls (Walk and Wait pedestrian signals, for example). Solutions to such violations vary with location, but center on consideration of redesigning certain physical characteristics of the intersection, such as increasing available intersection decision sight distance for drivers to see crossing vehicles in enough time to take appropriate action and correcting for insufficient stopping sight distance by warning drivers of an impending intersection, including the fact that it may be signalized. Other strategies are applied to reduce the temptation of drivers to violate traffic controls, such as desirable increases in meeting the demand for turning movement traffic volume by installing dual dedicated turn lanes with protected turning arrows and by extending turn storage lane lengths to accommodate more vehicles in the bay thereby reducing moving lane conflicts which often result in rear-end crashes. Due to high cost and often limited right-of-way, although many intersection safety problems could be cured with substantial redesign of the intersections, this is frequently not a feasible alternative.

A countermeasure quickly growing in popularity and effectiveness is known as photo radar. Vehicles violating intersection traffic control pass through a radar beam which simultaneously trips a camera shutter and triggers stroboscopic lighting for enhancing picture quality. A picture of the license tag of the vehicle is taken and the speed of the vehicle violating the intersection traffic control is recorded along with the date and time of the violation. Tickets are then mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle. Photo radar has several, highly desirable effects on intersection safety. First, drivers actually cited for violations are caught. This enables repeat signal violators to be detected, resulting in license restrictions, suspension, or revocation. Second, enforcement resources, always limited in a number of ways, are electronically extended. In effect, photo radar becomes the police officer stationed at an intersection whose primary task is to stop red light running.

Regular detection, citation, and punishment of intersection traffic control violators have important collateral safety effects: ticketed violators may be deterred from repeated offenses; other drivers are similarly deterred from committing initial violations; intersection speeds are reduced, a highly desirable safety goal resulting in fewer and less serious collisions; pedestrian safety is improved; and intersection congestion is often significantly alleviated because drivers refrain from entering an intersection when they are unable to clear it before a change in signal phase. These outcomes do not exhaust the benefits of controlling signal violations. Other benefits, still unproven, may be an increase in voluntary compliance by motorists with other traffic control devices, especially stop and yield signs, for example.


States should enact legislation that enables localities to install photo radar;

FHWA and the states should revise the existing practices for traffic control devices to permit longer phasing for pedestrian signals to enable safer pedestrian crossing on high volume roadways;

FHWA should emphasize the need for state and local governments to provide safer intersections for vehicles and pedestrians through better design, improved traffic control measures and, where warranted, rehabilitation or reconstruction of intersections.


This area of highway design and operation deserves treatment in its own right because major reconstruction and resurfacing of U.S. roads and streets has continued to increase over the last 20 years as roads and bridges have reached the end of their useful lives. Correcting the defects of aging infrastructure usually requires even full reconstruction of most highways in stages because of the necessity of maintaining access and use of these facilities by traffic.

As a result, providing drivers safe travel paths and guarding against crashes in highway work areas become even more critical due to the increase in opportunities for severe crashes simply because of the nature of the work being pursued in the construction or maintenance zone. Workers are often directly adjacent to moving traffic, heavy equipment is operating or stored near travel lanes, and flaggers are standing on the roadway. Over 750 people are killed each year in work zone crashes.

Temporary reductions in overall safety as compared with a permanent facility are unavoidable because traffic diversions are necessary, lane widths must be reduced, and barriers need to be erected close to traffic to protect workers and equipment, thereby increasing the opportunity for crashes. Over the years, an entire complement both of devices and specific engineering practices has evolved which is specifically directed towards offsetting the risks of permitting through traffic while a facility is undergoing maintenance or construction. Work zone safety strategies include special signs, channelizing and delineating supplements to or replacements for pavement markings (e.g., cones, barricades, and barrels), temporary and moveable barrier systems, and specific design criteria for the temporary alignment and cross-section values necessary to promote a high level of operating safety.

One major feature of construction and maintenance zone traffic control devices is the exemplification of the principle behind traffic engineering theory and practice of dedicating certain colors to specific kinds of devices. In the case of temporary work zone devices, the color used is orange. Another important principle controlling work zone traffic control is to provide positive guidance to motorists much more often than encountered on permanent roadways. Signs, including advance warning signs, are periodically spaced to advise motorists that a work zone is ahead, speed zone reductions are repeatedly made with the appropriate signs, and vehicles are guided into travel paths which often diverge from the permanent alignment of the road by means of closely spaced, temporary devices so that drivers are safely "channelized" through the hazards of the work area.

However, standards for specific traffic engineering countermeasures often are not observed by some authorities and contractors. Missing or illegible signs, damaged or inadequate temporary delineating devices, failure to supply necessary temporary barriers, and a host of other well-known defects can unfortunately be encountered in numerous highway work areas. Other common deficiencies are a failure to provide for safe pedestrian movement through or adjacent to the work area, failure to control working practices which needlessly expose workers to a high chance of vehicle collisions, and design of the temporary roadway conditions to meet the needs only of passenger vehicles and not of heavy commercial vehicles. This last deficiency has led to a serious overrepresentation of large commercial vehicle crashes in highway work zones. Although medium and heavy trucks are only about three percent of registered vehicles in the U.S., almost one out of four fatal crashes in highway work areas involve large commercial vehicles. This means that, among other things, work zones are not being designed to meet the very different operating needs and performance capabilities of big trucks and buses.

Another problem with work zone safety is the lack of reliable exposure data. Although most states report work zone fatality data, the reporting is very uneven and no measure of exposure for crashes, deaths, and injuries sustained is available. Consequently, much of the design of work zones and their effectiveness in providing safety for workers, motor vehicles, and pedestrians is based on anecdotal information rather than on "hard data." This problem is further compounded by the fact that different jurisdictions use different working definitions of where a highway construction zone begins and ends, for example, so that in some states crashes are included in reporting on work zone safety which are excluded in other states.


FHWA should evaluate and revise the standards for temporary traffic control in highway work zones, especially for driver decision sight distance, temporary alignment, and cross-section design features contained in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), to provide a safer operating environment for commercial vehicles on roads undergoing reconstruction and maintenance;

FHWA should also revise the MUTCD sections on pedestrian and worker safety given the unnecessary pedestrian deaths and injuries that occur in highway and street work zones, and the very high fatality rate for construction workers;

FHWA also needs to require the states to report work zone injury and fatal crash data with appropriate measures of exposure in order to determine whether specific traffic

control practices and other safety countermeasures have measurable benefits.


Highway design is one of the most important factors in highway safety. Different types of roads present different safety risks depending on how well they are designed and built. Freeways and expressways using the highest level of design and carefully applied traffic engineering techniques tend to have very low fatal crash rates, on some highways less than one death per one hundred million vehicle miles traveled. As one descends in what is called the functional classification of type of road (from freeways to arterial highways to collector roads and then to local streets), there is a clear trend of increasing fatal crash and fatality rates that has persisted for several decades. For example, a county collector road with the poor design and traffic control can often have a fatal crash rate far higher than a nearby rural Interstate highway built and maintained to the highest standards.

The configuration, or geometry, of a highway has two main parts: (1) its alignment, that is, how the road is laid out linearly before the driver, and (2) the width of its lanes, shoulders, and immediate roadside environment which together are referred to by highway designers as cross-section elements. Both of these basic components of highways are crucial to operating safety.

On poorly designed and maintained roads, drivers are placed at considerably increased risk of losing control of their vehicles and having either a single-vehicle crash especially off the road or a collision with another vehicle. The central reason for the increased chances of a driver making a life threatening mistake is the demand that the driver exercise extraordinary vigilance under conditions which frequently mislead the driver. On poorly designed roads the driver cannot see far down the highway because of what are called sight distance restrictions (the sharp curves and the vertical slopes near the travel lanes). These restrictions deny the driver a view of the road ahead and sufficient time to make correct driving decisions and to avoid conflicts with other vehicles, such as entering traffic from a side road.

Additional failures of good traffic engineering which are commonly found on American roadways include narrow or non-existent shoulders, narrow lanes, uncontrolled access from other roads, streets, and driveways, poor roadway lighting, and faded pavement markings and signs. Roads with these engineering flaws often have high crash rates because all of the earmarks of Positive Guidance and avoidance of conflicts have been ignored.

The hallmarks of good highway design which strongly reinforce safe driving include:

Long sight distances both for stopping, passing, and making avoidance maneuvers are provided;

Vehicle conflicts are reduced and controlled by preventing uninhibited access into the facility from cross streets and driveways;

Conflicts are lowered further by separating traffic with a median rather than simply a centerline, thereby dramatically reducing the chances of head-on collisions;

Lanes are wide so all types of vehicles using the facility can have reasonable lateral movement without collisions with adjacent vehicles;

Roadsides are cleared not only so drivers can see far around curves, but also to allow vehicle departures from the travel lanes into the adjacent environment without suffering serious impacts with dangerous features such as telephone poles, trees, boulders, drainage structures, or encountering steep ditches that can induce vehicle rollovers;

Lanes, shoulders, and intersections are clearly marked;

Both guidance and warning signs are large, bright, and legible so that drivers have ample time to make decisions before encountering changed operating circumstances.

Unfortunately, these basic elements of safe highway design and traffic control are often disregarded in many ways. The undoubted value of implementing well-known design and traffic engineering features in road design and maintenance is borne out consistently by the crash data collected over many years by type of highway.


FHWA should require the use of state-of-the-art engineering standards on the National Highway System and Federal-aid Highways;

FHWA should issue standards, not just guidelines, to regulate geometric design on highways constructed with federal funding.


A drive along a rural or even a suburban road will reveal numerous conditions, sometimes only a few feet outside the travel lane, which are the source of nearly one-third of all fatalities each year in the U.S. Leaving the travel lanes and entering the off-road area is especially dangerous because many fixed object hazards at or near the edge of the travelway. Oftentimes, these fixed objects are also narrow, such as trees, light poles, signal supports, or the leading ends of barriers, so that impacts involve tremendous crash forces concentrated in only a small part of the vehicle. The result is usually deep intrusion into the occupant compartment with predictably severe injuries and fatalities.

Although various federal and state programs have for many years specifically addressed this major issue of roadside safety, it is apparent to any perceptive driver that many hundreds of thousands of miles of America's roads still have not had proper countermeasures applied to remove or clear such hazards. These corrections take many forms, but primarily they consist of creating what highway engineers term a "forgiving" off-road environment, including a flat, traversable "clear area" with no fixed objects at the roadside. This "forgiving" environment means that even if a driver loses control of a vehicle they can come to a safe stop without a collision. This principle is at work on Interstate highways in most states.

When removing fixed objects or changing difficult terrain is too demanding, the next best strategy is to displace dangerous roadside conditions further from travel lanes to reduce the chances that vehicles can reach these features with the velocity which can still cause serious injury.

Where removal or displacement are not possible, the highway should be fitted with appropriate barrier systems and impact attenuators (crash cushions) so that vehicles are deflected from impacts with objects that inflict nearly certain death if collisions occur at higher speeds. Barriers and crash cushions are themselves fixed objects which are designed to inflict less damage and injury than the dangerous roadside conditions they are shielding. Under many circumstances, it is better to apply other engineering treatments instead of barriers or crash cushions. These include designing overhead sign supports or lighting poles to bend or break away on impact so that, at worst, only minor injuries are inflicted on vehicle occupants.

In many cases, however, both improper barrier designs, for example, have been chosen for highway locations or the correct barrier design has been placed improperly or even installed where, in fact, there is really no need for barriers at all. It is apparent that metal guardrail, in particular, has been overused and improperly installed in some jurisdictions.

The current generation of barriers and crash cushions, in particular, are designed primarily to respond to impacts by passenger vehicles. This means that safety hardware on our roadsides either fail to protect larger, heavier vehicles from the hazards that are being shielded or, in some cases, actually create more dangerous crash conditions.

For example, metal guardrail that will redirect a car will fail to contain and redirect the impacts of commercial vehicles and also are placed too low in relation to the centers of gravity of even larger passenger vehicles such as pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. This low placement provides a tripping force to the wheels of large light trucks and vans tending to increase the rate of rollover crashes by these vehicles. New barrier systems are being designed which can prevent larger vehicles from rolling over or from breaking through or vaulting the systems. However, replacing current barrier systems and substituting improved designs is a long, expensive process which will take many years to achieve.


FHWA needs to establish specific standards for barriers and impact attenuators that can reduce the severity of heavy vehicle roadside crashes and to require the use of these improved safety designs as a condition of receiving federal assistance for highway reconstruction and rehabilitation.


Traffic control devices are essential in promoting safety because they assist drivers in knowing exactly where they are on a roadway, especially at night and under adverse weather conditions, as well as signal drivers as to what to expect ahead. This means that a wide variety of traffic control devices is necessary, including warning and informational signs, pavement markings, and other devices for channelizing traffic within safe travel paths.

A crucial feature of both warning and guide signs is early detection of the signs and comprehension of their messages so that drivers have enough time to make corrections in their driving or to make choices of destination. Consequently, signs need to beconspicuous and legible so that drivers can safely perform maneuvers consistent with the information supplied.

Conspicuous traffic control devices are easily detected both day and night, and in all weather conditions, because they can be seen by all drivers with enough time to make a correct driving decision. At night, traffic control devices, including signs, are conspicuous because they rely overwhelmingly on retroreflectivity. In the case of motor vehicles, retroreflective traffic control devices are designed so that headlamps illuminate the signs and the light is then bounced back to the eyes of drivers seated behind the headlamps. This issue is especially important for older drivers who need several times the amount of light for early sign and pavement marking detection when driving at night.

Legible traffic signs are easily read and understood by all drivers, again, in enough time so that crucial driving decisions can be made early. Signs rely on both word messages and symbol messages, and sometimes a combination of the two.

There are problems, however, with the current practices governing both the conspicuity and the legibility of traffic control devices. Currently, each state governs the level of sign and pavement marking brightness and these policies vary widely in quality. Despite 20 years of research on establishing minimum levels of brightness or retroreflectivity no uniform, standards exist.

As for legibility, it is well recognized that current standards for one inch of letter height on signs for each 50 feet of viewing distance is inadequate for older drivers, particularly now that average travel speeds have increased with the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit. In addition, many thousands of legally licensed drivers have corrected vision which still does not permit early enough reading and comprehension to provide time for safe vehicle maneuvers. Repeated research findings indicate that legibility standards should probably be lowered to one inch of letter height for each 40 feet of viewing distance.

Another problem is where traffic control devices are located on the highway. Even the biggest and brightest sign is of little value if it is improperly located on the highway so that drivers are given inadequate perception-reaction time in order to comprehend and act on the message. In fact, improper location of signs can often increase the risk of crashes because placement too near a maneuvering decision point for a driver can promote sudden and erratic driving maneuvers.


FHWA should establish standards with minimum levels of brightness for traffic signs;

FHWA should amend current standards to require one inch of letter height on signs for every 40 feet of viewing distance.





The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and certain other regulations have been issued under authority granted by Congress in the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. The initial body of FMVSS were proposed by the National Traffic Safety Agency of the Department of Commerce on November 30, 1966, and were issued on February 3, 1967. The first FMVSS, Standard No. 209, Seat Belt Assemblies, took effect on March 1, 1967. In June, 1967, jurisdiction over the FMVSS and other provisions of the 1966 Safety Act was transferred to the National Highway Safety Bureau in the Department of Transportation and, since 1970, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a modal administration of the Department of Transportation, has had responsibility for the FMVSS and related regulations.

The FMVSS are regulations that contain the minimum safety performance requirements prescribed for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. Each FMVSS must be practicable, meet the need for motor vehicle safety, and be stated in objective terms. The safety standards are intended to reduce traffic deaths and injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes.

The FMVSS are divided into three categories according to the categorical system adopted in the Haddon matrix. Standards intended to prevent crashes and improve pre-crash safety, crash avoidance, are in the 100 series of the FMVSS, those intended to improve crash performance and survivability, crashworthiness standards, are in the 200 series of the FMVSS, and the standards intended to have greatest effect after a crash has occurred, post-crash standards, are designated in the 300 series of the FMVSS. The FMVSS are located in Part 571 of title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.



No. 101 Controls and Displays

No. 102 Transmission Shift Lever Sequence, Starter Interlock, and Transmission Braking Effect

No. 103 Windshield Defrosting and Befogging Systems

No. 104 Windshield Wiping and Washing Systems

No. 105 Hydraulic and Electric Brake Systems

No. 106 Brake Hoses

No. 107 [Reserved]

No. 108 Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment

No. 109 New Pneumatic Tires

No. 110 Tire Selection and Rims

No. 111 Rearview Mirrors

No. 112 [Reserved]

No. 113 Hood Latch System

No. 114 Theft Protection

No. 115 [Reserved]

No. 116 Motor Vehicle Brake Fluids

No. 117 Retreaded Pneumatic Tires

No. 118 Power-Operated Window, Partition, and Roof Panel Systems

No. 119 New Pneumatic Tires for Vehicles Other Than Passenger Cars

No. 120 Tire Selection and Rims for Motor Vehicles Other Than Passenger Cars

No. 121 Air Brake Systems

No. 122 Motorcycle Brake Systems

No. 123 Motorcycle Controls and Displays

No. 124 Accelerator Control Systems

No. 125 Warning Devices

No. 126 [Reserved]

No. 129 New Non-Pneumatic Tires for Passenger Cars

No. 131 School Bus Pedestrian Safety Devices

No. 135 Light Vehicle Brake Systems



No. 201 Occupant Protection in Interior Impact

No. 202 Head Restraints

No. 203 Impact Protection for the Driver from the Steering Control System

No. 204 Steering Control Rearward Displacement

No. 205 Glazing Materials

No. 206 Door Locks and Door Retention Components

No. 207 Seating Systems

No. 208 Occupant Crash Protection

No. 209 Seat Belt Assemblies

No. 210 Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages

No. 211 [Reserved]

No. 212 Windshield Mounting

No. 213 Child Restraint Systems

No. 214 Side Impact Protection

No. 216 Roof Crush Resistance

No. 218 Motorcycle Helmets

No. 219 Windshield Zone Intrusion

No. 220 School bus Rollover Protection

No. 221 School bus Body Joint Strength

No. 222 School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection

No. 223 Rear Impact Guards

No. 224 Rear Impact Protection


No. 301 Fuel System Integrity

No. 302 Flammability of Interior Materials

No. 303 Fuel System Integrity of Compressed Natural Gas Vehicles

No. 304 Compressed Natural Gas Fuel Container Integrity

No. 500 Low Speed Vehicles


Part 531 Passenger Automobile Average Fuel Economy Standards

Part 533 Light Truck Fuel Economy Standards

Part 541 Federal Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention

Part 555 Temporary Exemptions from Motor Vehicle Safety Standards

Part 557 Petitions for Hearings on Notification and Remedy of Defects

Part 564 Replaceable Light Source Information

Part 565 Vehicle Identification Number-Content Requirements

Part 566 Manufacturer Identification

Part 567 Certification Regulation

Part 568 Vehicles Manufactured in Two or More Stages

Part 569 Regrooved Tires

Part 570 Vehicle In Use Inspection Standards

Part 571 FMVSS

Part 572 Anthropomorphic Test Devices (Crash Test Dummy Specifications)

Part 573 Defect and Noncompliance Reports

Part 574 Tire Identification and Record Keeping

Part 575 Consumer Information Regulations

Part 577 Defect and Noncompliance Notification

Part 579 Defect and Noncompliance Responsibility

Part 580 Odometer Disclosure Requirements

Part 581 Bumper Standard

Part 582 Insurance Cost Information Regulation

Part 583 Automobile Parts Contents labeling

Part 589 Upper Interior Component Head Impact Protection Phase-In Reporting

Part 591 Importation of Vehicles and Equipment Subject to Federal Safety, Bumper, and Theft Prevention Standards

Part 595 Retrofit On-Off Switches for Air Bags




The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) is one of the cornerstones of modern vehicle safety. The success of the FMVSS in raising levels of safety and occupant protection and in saving lives in the real world is beyond question. However, the FMVSS remains a work in progress.

Important issues of motor vehicle and equipment safety have been neglected or ignored and not all the existing FMVSS adequately regulate the areas of vehicle performance and equipment the standards purport to address. Despite the assertion that all the hardware and design issues have been properly regulated, many of the FMVSS are in need of upgrading and updating in order to ensure that future generations of vehicles will provide adequate safety protection to all vehicle occupants.

In the following pages, Advocates provides in depth discussion of a number of major safety issues and standards. Three areas require that new vehicle safety standards be promulgated by NHTSA to address issues of vehicle stability (rollover prevention), vehicle crash compatibility, and pedestrian safety (vehicle-pedestrian impact). As to existing standards and regulations, Advocates details fifteen other FMVSS or NHTSA regulations in need of revision to improve the safety protection afforded to the general public.


BACKGROUND: In 1997, the latest year for which U.S. DOT figures are available, there were 7,661 light vehicle fatal rollover crashes. This represents nearly one-fourth of all fatal crashes involving light vehicles. Rollover crashes rank third after frontal and side impact crashes as leading causes of occupant deaths in passenger vehicles. More than 90 percent of all rollover crashes occur after the passenger vehicle has left the road.

Light trucks are involved in half of all fatal rollover crashes. Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) were involved in 1,389 of these fatal crashes in 1997. SUVs have about 100 fatal rollover crashes for every million registered vehicles. This is twice the rate of all light vehicle types combined. Pickups as a class have only a slightly lower rate of 93 fatal rollover crashes per million registered vehicles.

Light truck rollovers have the additional lethal consequence of increased occupant ejection. The risk of death for an occupant who is ejected is more than three times that of an occupant retained within the vehicle. Deaths due to ejection occur in over 20 percent of rollover crashes, a figure that is essentially unchanged since 1982. According to NHTSA, this is despite a tremendous increase over the past 15 years in seatbelt use, including a 35 percent rate use among fatally injured occupants. Major reasons for this tragic figure adduced by NHTSA are the higher rollover crash rates of light trucks, especially SUVs and pickups, the increased market share for this portion of the light vehicle fleet, and the higher rates of speeds of passenger vehicles preceding rollover crashes. There also appears to be an intrinsic difference in rollover dynamics for light trucks that results in more ejections when they rollover than when passenger cars rollover. This even includes an adjustment for the disparity in seat belt use rates between the two different classes of vehicles.

The overwhelming majority of rollover crashes occur in the roadside environment and usually involve a tripping force applied to the sides of vehicles' tires. Current NHTSA research is concentrating predominantly on uncrippled, on-roadway rollovers which comprise a very small portion of annual rollover crashes.

Although NHTSA began in 1993 to consider adopting rollover prevention standards by establishing criteria for vehicle stability, the agency terminated rulemaking in 1994. NHTSA argued that it could not establish vehicle stability requirements for only one class of vehicles, such as SUVs, without setting requirements for all light vehicles. The agency also argued that a benefits-driven standard would require dictating basic vehicle design changes to industry. NHTSA claimed it did not have the statutory authority to require basic vehicle platform designs. A coalition of safety organizations and insurers petitioned for reconsideration in 1994, pointing out that the agency could establish standards for only a portion of the light vehicle fleet. NHTSA denied the petition in 1996.

BENEFITS: The benefits of fatalities prevented and injuries avoided depends on the extent of corrective changes made to reduce rollover crashes. NHTSA has claimed that financial burdens on manufacturers outstrip the value of the reduction in deaths and injuries. However, substantial improvements in vehicle roll stability could save hundreds of lives and avoid thousands of injuries. Preventing a large portion of annual rollover crashes has major collateral benefits in preventing deaths and severe injuries involving trauma that result from roof crush and ejection. Cost burdens can be mitigated by focusing rollover stability improvements in SUVs and pickups which are the members of the class of light vehicles that experience the highest rates of rollover crashes.


BACKGROUND: According to NHTSA, pedestrians suffer more severe injuries when struck by motor vehicles than passenger car occupants do who are involved in crashes. In 1996, the latest year for which complete U.S. DOT figures are available, nearly 5,000 pedestrians were killed and 80,000 were injured from being struck by motor vehicles. Impacts by cars and light trucks were responsible for more than four out of five of these deaths and nearly all of the injuries. The number and the loss severity of pedestrians struck by motor vehicles can be expected to increase due to the rapid increases in the proportion of older citizens in the American population.

The front areas of cars, vans, pickups, and SUVs are unyielding when they impact pedestrians . Front grills, fenders, hoods, and cowls are structurally rigid and inflict serious upper body and head trauma. Pedestrian head and face impacts with hoods and fenders are responsible for more than 90 percent of all pedestrian fatalities. Most pickups, vans, and SUVs have bumpers that are higher than passenger cars. This results in serious injuries to knee joints in even low speed impacts. The light truck market, which is comprised of pickups, vans and SUVs, has disproportionately grown over the past several years so that current sales constitute nearly 50 percent of new vehicle purchases.

NHTSA specifically issued a preliminary notice in 1991 to address softening the aggressive front-end designs of passenger vehicles in order to reduce both deaths and injury severity. The agency subsequently announced, in June 1992, that no further action would be forthcoming because, in the agency's view, altering passenger vehicle front-end designs to reduce pedestrian injury severity was not feasible. However, Acura recently announced that the 1999 Acura RLL was redesigned specifically to reduce severe injuries to pedestrians. Acura's design approach involved multiple strategies including many of which that had been explored by NHTSA in 1991.

BENEFITS: Preliminary benefits assessments by NHTSA indicate that a significant number of lives could be saved and a substantial reduction of overall injury severity, especially head injuries, could be achieved by increasing the distance between the underlying rigid engine compartment components and the vehicle hood, as well as by softening hood, cowl, and fender tops.


BACKGROUND: Two different fleets of passenger vehicles presently share U.S. roads. These two fleets are fundamentally incompatible in multiple-vehicle crashes. One fleet is comprised of comparatively light, vulnerable passenger cars that are relatively stable in both weight and mass. The number of these cars registered has remained relatively constant for the past several years. The second fleet consists of substantially heavier, crash-aggressive light trucks and vans (TVS) whose market share has surged during the 1990s. The average disparity in mass between these two fleets is now close to 1,000 pounds.

As a class, TVS are heavier, have chassis which are usually higher from the ground, and are designed to be stiffer than passenger cars. In crashes between members of the two fleets, the TVS are more "aggressive," that is, they transmit higher and more lethal impact forces to the smaller passenger car. In addition, TVS strike smaller cars above the bumpers, or in side impacts, above the rigid sills and rocker panels and the side impact bars which are more vulnerable impact points since crash energy management is poorer in these areas .

Losses from this crash mismatch of incompatible vehicle designs have mounted over the last decade. Since 1992, for example, there have been more fatalities in LTV.-to- car collisions than in car-to-car crashes. Furthermore, in LTV-to-car impacts, 80 percent of the fatally injured occupants are in the cars.

BENEFITS: In a recent study, NHTSA tentatively concluded that a 100 pound reduction in the average weight of TVS even with no change in passenger cars would produce significant gains in crash protection for car occupants, as well as for motorcyclists and pedestrians, without decreasing the crash protection of LTV. occupants.

A variety of strategic changes in LTV design could significantly reduce the deaths and injury severity in crashes between any two members of the overall passenger vehicle fleet. For example, reducing LTV height would ensure more effective interaction between the designed crash responses of cars and LTVs. Similarly, designing more forgiving front ends for LTVs by reducing their linear stiffness would create more equal crash responses between any two colliding passenger vehicles. In addition, lowering LTV height and weight would also have collateral safety benefits by reducing LTV rollover propensity.

Making these two passenger vehicle fleets closer in height, weight, and crash dynamics simultaneously generates both multi-vehicle and single-vehicle crashworthiness and crash avoidance safety benefits. However, any decrease in general LTV crash aggressiveness must also acknowledge the twin needs of (1) protecting occupants from the severe consequences of impacts with commercial vehicles which are substantially larger than LTVs, i.e., medium and heavy trucks, and (2) ensuring that LTV occupants are not placed at increased risk of death and severe injury in collisions with non-deformable fixed object hazards, such as sign posts and trees, in the road environment.


BACKGROUND: First adopted in 1971 with several amendments through 1995, this standard has crucial safety importance because it specifies the requirements for the location, identification, and illumination of motor vehicle controls and displays. Important vehicle controls and information displays must be conspicuous, easily accessible, and quickly understood or engaged to facilitate crash avoidance.

Unfortunately, Standard No. 201 allows excessive flexibility in locating both instrument panel and other dashboard readouts and controls which has been shown in some studies to delay the timely action needed by a driver to avoid a crash or to reduce its severity. For example, the advent of driver-side air bags led many manufacturers to reduce the steering wheel area used for engaging the horn to only small buttons which were also often placed in ergonomically inappropriate locations. Although this situation has been improved in recent years, some vehicle brands and models still have very small horn buttons.

Similarly, fundamental drive train control layouts are not mandated by the standard. Hazard warning button location and reversed turn signal and wiper locations (i.e., turn signal placed on the right side, wipers on the left side, of the steering column) are among the many examples in this important safety area. Moreover, other optional features, such as cruise control buttons, on current passenger vehicles are not governed by any regulatory requirements. In many cases, steering wheel assemblies mask visual detection of these controls. A further problem with the standard, especially for older drivers, is that these controls are often not lit or are inadequately lit during nighttime.

Recently, increasing attention has been to the potential safety risks involved with audio systems in passenger vehicles. Studies indicate that crash risks and the incidence of crashes have both risen due to the diversion of driver attention and the movement of drivers to suboptimal out-of-position crash attitudes needed in order to access and operate tape and compact disc audio systems.

Recent retrospective crash studies and driver simulator research indicate that cellular telephone use significantly increases the chance of crashes due to the multi-tasking demands on drivers which result in reduced situational awareness and diverted cognitive processing. Studies have shown that even with the use of hands-free cellular telephones, as opposed to handheld, portable, cell phones, crash risk is still increased because overall driver attention to the driving task is measurably lower.

Perhaps most disturbing is the advent over the past few years of visual displays, some of them interactive, provided as available options in both cars and in LTVs. These include global positioning satellite (GPS) screens, as well as navigation systems which also include touch-screen interactive menus for choosing specific kinds of destinations (such as food, fuel, entertainment, medical services, etc.). Recently, a major manufacturer has offered in its vans the option of in-vehicle television sets mounted at the front header rail which are within the driver's line of sight. All of these systems can operate while the vehicles are in motion.

BENEFITS: Visual displays, especially those involving interactive use by the driver, can be a serious threat to traffic safety. However, there is no reliable quantification of the number of crashes that are occasioned by reduced driver alertness except for one study of cellular telephone use. Currently, Standard No. 101 is silent on the use of visual displays in vehicles while they are moving. GPS, interactive computer screens, and televisions within driver reach need to be appropriately regulated by NHTSA to ensure that driver attention to the task of safely operating a vehicle is not undermined by these serious distractions.


BACKGROUND: Standard No. 108 governs all external lighting systems for both passenger and commercial vehicles. In recent years, the requirements for lamps and other conspicuity measures (such as reflectors and retroreflective sheeting) on both passenger vehicles as well as trucks and buses have undergone revisions. Several proposed and prospective amendments to passenger car lighting requirements are also being evaluated by NHTSA.

A crucial area of safety design for drivers is nighttime roadway illumination by vehicle headlamps. Unfortunately, vehicle manufacturers noted in the early 1990s that the photometric criteria in Standard No. 108 specified maximum, but not minimum values for the amount of light produced by headlamps above the horizontal level of the beams. As a result, many manufacturers began building and importing vehicles conforming to the highly different headlamp performance standards of Europe and Asia which allow no headlamp illumination above the horizon.

The result was the failure of these headlamps to adequately illuminate the U.S. nighttime traffic control environment. Signs and other traffic control devices which rely on retroreflectorized light were not bright enough for easy and early detection of crucial traffic information. This deficiency was especially dangerous for older drivers who require several times the amount of light needed by young drivers to see traffic signs.

Although NHTSA recognized this defect and addressed the need to increase photometric performance of headlamps a few years ago, the agency's final rule lowered the originally proposed values by half, resulting in ongoing inadequate traffic sign illumination. Moreover, manufacturers have continued to press the agency to adopt a European-type headlamp standard.

Apart from other lighting actions involving taillights, daytime running lights, and the type and design of bulbs used in vehicle exterior lighting systems, another major area of passenger vehicle safety has been the inadequate conspicuity of large trucks. Many motorists crash into the sides and rear-ends of commercial vehicles because current lighting standards for trucks and buses are clearly inadequate. Although the underlying lighting standards for tractor-trailers have remained unamended since their adoption 30 years ago, NHTSA has adopted a final rule requiring supplementary reflective markings to be applied to truck trailers to make them more conspicuous and identifiable for other motorists.

BENEFITS: Although, NHTSA's own economic analyses have demonstrated the substantial benefits already secured by increasing the amount of illumination produced by passenger vehicle headlamps to improve the detection of traffic control devices, the values in current regulation are still inadequate and need to be increased further. Given the rapid, disproportionate increase in the numbers and percentage of older drivers in the U.S., more light from headlamps above the horizon while avoiding excessive glare, would improve nighttime operating safety. Similarly, although NHTSA has implemented a minimum standard for applying retroreflectors to truck trailers to aid in their early detection and recognition by other motorists, the agency needs to coordinate this supplementary treatment with basic reform of the lighting performance standard for medium and heavy vehicles. The lighting currently allowed by regulation on large trucks and buses is too dim and placement of some of the lamps is not related to the visibility needs of other drivers. Regulatory improvement in both of these areas of Standard No. 108 could reduce the number and severity of nighttime crashes.


BACKGROUND: The current hydraulic brake standard, FMVSS No. 135, was adopted by NHTSA in 1995 for all passenger cars beginning with year 2000 models. In 1996, the agency proposed extending this standard to other passenger vehicles (pickups, vans, and sport utility vehicles). That proposed rulemaking is still pending.

Standard No. 135 replaced the original brake standard, FMVSS No. 105, which had been adopted in 1976 and amended on numerous occasions until the last iteration of FMVSS No. 135 was offered for public comment in 1992. The major reason advanced by NHTSA for adoption of FMVSS No. 135 was the desire of manufacturers to design and build hydraulic brake systems throughout the world without conforming to the special requirements of the U.S. market. Hence, arguments claiming benefits of international harmonization were offered by both manufacturers and the agency during the protracted rulemaking on FMVSS No. 135.

Despite the opposition by safety organizations, many important safety features present in Standard No. 105 were eliminated from the final rule adopted in 1995. In fact, one of the hallmarks of the successive proposals published by NHTSA on FMVSS No. 135 was this progressive weakening or elimination of key safety features of FMVSS No. 105. For example, the final proposed version of Standard No. 135 substantially increased the permitted stopping distances, deleted a requirement for pre-burnish brake performance, reduced the stringency of the brake burnish test, weakened the requirements for parking brakes, allowed momentary wheel lockup during certain compliance tests, lengthened brake system reaction time, weakened the fade-and-recovery test, deleted the brake lining wear audible or visual alarm requirement, and permitted Original Equipment Manufacturers to supply vehicles with manual instead of automatic brake system status checks. Similarly, it eliminated the water test previously required to ensure quick wet brake recovery capability and resistance of drum brake equipped cars to degraded braking due to wet brake shoes. Taken together, these changes can easily result in poor braking performance such as longer stopping distances and slower brake system reaction time. Standard No. 135 also provides less information about the safety condition of a car's brake system which is critical to the driver.

NHTSA proposed extending the new hydraulic brake standard to all other light passenger vehicles in 1996. Safety organizations strongly opposed this move, arguing that it would guarantee that the defects and mistakes of the current car-only standard would be extended to light trucks and vans. To date, no further action has been taken on this proposed enlargement of the scope of the standard.

NHTSA has been notified of the need to verify the actual in-service safety performance of the new standard when it goes into effect with model year 2000 cars. This includes not only a demonstration of actual braking effectiveness of service brakes designed to minimum values permitted by the new standard, but also data showing the on-road performance of the weakened parking brake requirements. The agency also needs to prove that consumers are not operating vehicles with dangerous brakes because of the elimination of brake lining and brake status warning requirements from the new regulation.

BENEFITS: Standard No. 135 is a serious mistake. Considerations other than advancing public safety on the road were the basis of amending the major crash avoidance regulation. The result was a standard that eliminated the safety benefits of an existing, more stringent brake standard. Standard No. 135 should not be extended to light trucks and vans, and it should also undergo careful review to restore important testing and performance safeguards that were deleted in 1995.


BACKGROUND: Standard No. 201 is a technically complex and broad crashworthiness standard. It contains separate performance and compliance requirements for unrestrained front occupant impact protection than for interior collisions with passenger vehicle instrument panels, in addition to countermeasures to reduce injury severity from occupant front and lateral head impacts with rigid upper interior components. It represents the most general and comprehensive regulatory synthesis of occupant compartment safety geometry and energy absorbing countermeasures as they relate to the overall controlled crush response of a passenger vehicle in a collision. Because manufacturers currently rely on interior impact protection through the use of both active and passive restraints, the requirements of Standard No. 201 intersect with those addressing seat belt and air bag systems in Standard No. 208.

An important part of the current standard involves appropriate protection of the human head from front and side impacts with inherently rigid features and components of the upper interior portion of the passenger vehicle occupant compartment. Upper interior features which have been a major source of numerous lethal and severe head injuries include pillars, seat belt anchorage points, front and rear headers and side rails at the roofline, and sunroof framing. Prior to establishing the new requirements in 1995, NHTSA estimates that nearly 2,500 people a year died and more than 4,000 received severe injuries from impacts with unyielding components in the upper portion of passenger vehicles . Many of these injuries involve brain damage resulting in lifelong disabilities.

BENEFITS: In 1995, NHTSA adopted a final rule establishing maximum levels of injury for these upper interior head impacts. Both front and side impacts with a head surrogate could not exceed a level of 1,000 head injury criterion (HIC) in a 15 miles-per-hour (mph) test. NHTSA calculated that more than 1,000 deaths and nearly 1,000 serious injuries could be prevented by the new addition to Standard No. 201, with 28 percent of the benefits accruing in rollover crashes alone.

The final rule, however, was the weaker regulatory alternative proposed by the agency. Safety organizations had urged NHTSA to increase the test speed to 20 mph and to lower the acceptable HIC score for lateral impacts to 800 because of the more serious nature of side-of-head collisions. The strength of the final rule was limited by available technology since NHTSA believed that the only feasible countermeasure was nonreboundable foam: at 20 mph and/or 800 HIC for side impacts, many vehicles, especially LTVs, would have to add 2.5 or more inches of padding to the upper interiors of their vehicles.

In 1998, NHTSA increased the level of protection for upper interior head impacts by adopting an amendment to Standard No. 201 specifying an optional compliance test that must be used if a manufacturer chooses to use dynamic rather than static technologies. The agency also substantially increased the severity of a compliance test for dynamic protection systems by requiring a lateral impact with a pole at 18 mph which results in serious intrusion into the occupant compartment, but permitted a 12 mph impact compliance level for the upper interior zones immediately underneath and adjacent to a stowed dynamic protection system. The agency estimates that if 100 percent of cars and LTVs were equipped with these sophisticated devices up to an additional 500 or more deaths would be prevented by complying with this more rigorous option above the benefits already calculated for the 1995 upper interior rule.

The 1995 regulation for static protection is too weak and it is doubtful that all manufacturers will embrace the more complex and expensive dynamic protection option, especially for smaller, cheaper passenger vehicles.


BACKGROUND: Standard No. 201 also requires protection for occupants with interior surfaces on the instrument panel (dash board), seat back, interior compartment doors, sun visors and armrests. The most important of these from the standpoint of injury causation is the instrument panel and interior surfaces directly ahead of the front passenger seating area. In a crash, an unrestrained passenger in the front seat is almost certain to have either their knees, chest, head, or some combination of these body parts contact the instrument panel. Prior to Standard No. 201, instrument panels were made of hard materials, often with metal trim with sharp surfaces and protruding objects, such as knobs or buttons, made of metal or hard plastic. These presented extremely hazardous projections for unbelted occupants that, in a crash, cause serious injuries, such as facial lacerations, head injuries and fatalities commonly resulted from contact with these surfaces.

In the 1960's and 1970's instrument panels were modified to use energy absorbing materials, add padding, reduce or eliminate sharp edges and protruding objects. Standard No. 201 required padding on instrument panels and other interior surfaces of cars by 1968, and was amended to require similar treatment of interior surfaces of light trucks by September 1, 1981. Other design changes, such as extending instrument panels further back toward the passenger permitted larger knee impact areas and the introduction of padded knee bolsters. Larger, softer instrument panels also improve impact protection for unrestrained occupants by keeping the passenger in an upright position once they have moved forward toward the instrument panel during a crash. In doing so the instrument panel enhances safety in two ways: first, by reducing passenger interactions with the windshield, headers and other hard upper interior components which have traditionally been major contributors to head injury causation; and second, by providing a longer period of deceleration during which the crash forces exerted on the passenger are reduced because they are spread over a longer period of time and because the instrument panel padding absorbs more of the crash energy.

NHTSA has calculated that improvements to the instrument panel, including those required by Standard No. 201 and other changes introduced voluntarily, have reduced fatality and serious injury risk by about 25 percent in current production model passenger vehicles compared to earlier models. The agency estimates that about 700 lives per year are saved in cars alone.

BENEFITS: Improvements can be made to the geometry and energy management characteristics of instrument panels to ensure that all models provide the positioning benefits to unrestrained passengers in the front seat.

Moreover, with the introduction of air bags into the instrument panel careful attention needs to be given to the placement and the direction of air bag deployment in order to optimize the interaction between passengers, both belted and unbelted, and deploying air bags. This includes ensuring the air bag module covers do not become hazardous projectiles when air bags are deployed.

Standard No. 201 must also be upgraded to improve protection from foot and leg injuries. Increased seat belt use and air bags are saving lives but surviving front seat occupants are suffering more severe lower torso, leg and foot injuries. Such injuries, while not necessarily life threatening, can seriously diminish the quality of life especially for vulnerable populations such as older occupants who have much longer recovery periods. Further improvements in instrument panel design, knee bolsters, and other energy absorbing materials should be complemented by improvements in vehicle front end design especially in the forward portion of the occupant compartment and the floor pan area to provide greater protection from foot, leg, and knee injuries for front seat occupants.


BACKGROUND: NHTSA estimates that there may be nearly a million "whiplash" type neck injuries each year. Annual losses from cervical spinal injuries and associated disorders due to rear impacts are estimated by insurers to cost $10 billion.

The standard for head restraints was set in 1969 for cars; the only significant change was its extension in 1991 to light trucks and vans. The standard requires passenger vehicles to have head restraints for front, but not rear, outboard seating positions. Head restraints must be at least 27.5 inches above the measured Seating Reference Point (SRP) when extended to their highest position and they must not deflect more than four (4) inches under application of a 200 pound load. In the alternative, head restraints can meet a performance test that specifies a limiting rearward angular displacement of the original head position reference line in its relation to the torso reference line. This latter performance test does not specify the height of the head restraint.

The current standard is widely recognized to be seriously inadequate in that it promotes a variety of neck and head injuries collected under the term "whiplash." This has been repeatedly demonstrated in rear impact tests conducted by government and safety organizations. For example, recent tests of 203 head restraints in 1997 model passenger vehicles found only five (5) to have good protection against injury in rear-end crashes. FMVSS No. 202 allows head restraints to be adjustable; therefore, they actually can increase the severity of neck injuries unless raised to their highest possible settings. When lowered, they can provide a fulcrum point for cervical hyperextension. Surveys by NHTSA have shown that most vehicle occupants fail to raise their head restraints above the fully retracted settings.

However, even when raised to their maximum heights, current head restraints in the U.S. light vehicle market usually have no fore-and-aft adjustment capabilities. Both the performance measure and the 4-inch excursion test specified in the current standard allow excessive head and neck movement in a rear impact crash which result in injuries.

BENEFITS: NHTSA has shown that proper head restraint design dramatically reduces neck injuries. The current Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) head restraint standard prevents the use of designs that are too low. The ECE standard also requires head restraints for rear outboard occupants, a requirement presently missing from the U.S. standard. Adopting the essential features of the new ECE regulation alone could substantially reduce rear impact injuries. However, even more promising head restraint designs have been innovated by a few manufacturers in the last few years, including dynamic configurations that react to rear-end crash forces to prevent any head and neck excursion. The U.S. standard could be amended to ensure that manufacturers use the best static designs while also encouraging the use of dynamic designs that can further lower the chances of injury. These amendments should be coordinated with appropriate improvements to the current U.S. seatback standard, FMVSS No. 207.


BACKGROUND: Standard No. 205 targets the reduction of injuries from impacts with glazing surfaces (windows) in vehicle occupant compartments. Part of the standard also ensures adequate light transmittance for driver visibility. The standard has undergone numerous changes since it was established in 1972.

Of the approximately 13,000 people who die each year because they are ejected from their vehicles in crashes, more than 8,000 are killed from being entirely or partially ejected through vehicle window openings. Of this number, about two-thirds of the deaths, or 5,350, are ejected through glazed windows.

Since 1966, windshields have used high penetration resistant tempered glass. Rulemaking in the early 1980s resulted in amendment of Standard No. 205 to permit the use of a coating of soft polyurethane plastic on the inner surfaces of vehicle windows. However, the primary purpose of this new technology was to reduce the risk of lacerations from broken glass rather than dramatically reduce glazed window ejections.

Ejection reduction through glazing can be accomplished only with hard rather than soft plastics and combinations of soft plastic and glass laminates. NHTSA has researched the use of these hard plastics and plastic/glass laminates since the early 1980s. However, one of the problems with plastics and plastic/glass laminates is abrasion resistance. Without good scratch resistance, in-service degradation of light transmittance can occur to the point where driver visibility is substantially impaired. Although NHTSA has evaluated several proprietary glazings for both sustained transparency and ejection prevention, the agency has not issued a proposed rule modifying the current standard to permit these new glazing technologies in vehicle windows because none meet the agency requirements for the crucially important characteristic of safety for long-term driver visibility.

BENEFITS: New glazing technologies with acceptable light transmittance values for long-term service could dramatically reduce deaths due to ejection. NHTSA's 1995 benefit analysis has shown that about 1,300 deaths from ejection through side windows can be prevented through the use of new hard plastic or plastic/glass laminates. The benefit analysis shows that of these 1,300 ejection deaths prevented, 1,000 of them would occur in passenger vehicle rollover crashes. However, benefits must be balanced against potential increases in head impact forces against more rigid glazing materials. Consequently, any ejection-preventing glazing proposals must be considered within the wider context of overall upper interior head impact protection. A corollary benefit of ejection-preventing glazing is substantial improvement in theft prevention by reducing one of the most common forms of forced vehicle entry, i.e., smashing windows.


BACKGROUND: Standard No. 205 currently specifies performance requirements governing different levels of light transmittance, the amount of light that passes through a material, for vehicle glazing (windows) at different locations. The requirement for windshields and windows crucial to driver visibility and safe vehicle operation specifies a 70 percent laboratory-measured light transmittance level.

The laboratory test is conducted with the glazing material mounted at a 90-degree angle to the light source. This test does not reflect real-world vehicle designs since many passenger vehicles, both cars and multi-purpose passenger vehicles (MPVs), now have windshields installed at increasingly severe angles to accomplish fundamental changes in occupant compartment design ("cab forward" design). These severe windshield mounting angles, up to 70 degrees in a few instances, substantially reduce light transmittance so that actual amount of light reaching the driver can reach levels are as low as 60 percent. The detrimental effect on driver visibility is most acute at dawn, dusk, and severely overcast daytime operating conditions. The reduction is especially severe for older drivers who not only require many times the light levels of younger drivers to see road conditions and traffic control features but who also have far poorer contrast sensitivity. The amount of light entering through the rear window is also of significant importance in backing situations, particularly where pedestrians and young children may be located.

In 1992, NHTSA proposed allowing manufacturers to provide more highly tinted side and rear windows in new passenger cars and reducing the current light transmittance performance standard for windshields from 70 percent to 60 percent. However, the agency terminated rulemaking on this and other proposed amendments to Standard No. 205 in mid-1998.

Benefits: NHTSA, in response to petitions asking the agency to allow more highly tinted glazing as Original Manufacturer Equipment, did not change the standard to permit increased tinting for certain glazing. The agency, however, failed to adopt important amendments to Standard No. 205 that would have required light transmittance compliance testing at the actual angle of the installed windshield to ensure that the minimum light transmittance performance requirement of 70 percent is maintained regardless of the angle of the glazing as installed. Some 1999 cars and vans now have windshields installed at severe angles which lowers light transmittance to inadequate levels.

Also, NHTSA has reviewed the need to eliminate the regulatory exemption for MPVs that allows darker tinted glazing in rear side windows which are now determined to be as important for driver visibility. However, the agency has not acted to remove this exemption.


BACKGROUND: About 13,000 people die each year in crashes in which they are partially or completely ejected from their vehicles. Post-crash reconstructionists have conservatively estimated that about 2,500 of these deaths occur in crashes in which the occupants are ejected through the side doors. This figure may well be higher since it is often difficult to determine the ejection pathway of the occupant.

Despite enormous improvements in motor vehicle occupant restraint use over the past 20 years, the ejection rate of fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants is essentially unchanged. While the rate of ejection for belted occupants is very low at only 2.5 percent of those fatally injured; nearly 30 percent of unbelted occupants die because they are ejected from their vehicles. According to NHTSA, the risk of fatality is three times greater for an occupant who is ejected than for one who remains in the occupant compartment.

Preventing ejections is a complex issue requiring a strategy involving both crashworthiness and crash avoidance countermeasures. Crashworthiness measures such as seatbelt use, ejection-deterring window glazing, door locking and latching, and general vehicle side structure design integrity are combined to prevent occupant ejection. Crash avoidance of rollovers, especially in light trucks and vans, can prevent the leading kind of crash responsible for most ejection fatalities.

The current standard governing door locks and door mounting designs is essentially unchanged since its adoption in 1967. Improvements to latch design in the early 1960s in addition to the later secondary latching requirement added to the original Standard No. 206 appear to have helped lower the rate of ejection deaths and injuries.

However, a mark of the inherent weakness of the present standard is that secondary latching was judged to be needed as a backup to the widespread failure of primary latching. Although NHTSA conducted research and held public meetings several years ago on a new, dramatically improved latch using a vertical spring-loaded pin design, no rulemaking action has been initiated to adopt this approach or to set a performance requirement ensuring its use. Instead, current manufacturing designs continue to use the forkbolt primary latch which experiences repeated failure in side impact crashes and in rollovers accompanied by significant roof crush.

NHTSA attempted to abate the growing problem of rear tailgate ejection fatalities and injuries a few years by adding a secondary latching requirement for rear entry doors on passenger vehicles. The agency is aware that this countermeasure, although helpful, simply duplicates the current standard's obsolete requirements for side entry door latching.

BENEFITS: Side door ejections rank second behind side windows as the pathway responsible for fatal injuries. NHTSA emphasized in a 1995 public meeting on the need to upgrade Standard No. 206 that perhaps hundreds of side door fatal ejections annually could be prevented by simple, inexpensive design changes to both latches, strikers and door mounting systems. However, no rulemaking action by the agency has been undertaken since the 1995 public review of research findings and crash data.


BACKGROUND: Standard No. 208, occupant crash protection, requires vehicle manufacturers to provide protection that meets prescribed performance requirements through the installation of manual (lap and shoulder seatbelts) and automatic inflatable (air bags) restraint systems. Standard No. 208 requires safety belts and air bags in all passenger vehicles. The standard has long required seat belts and currently requires lap/shoulder belt systems at all outboard seating positions, but only lap belts in non-outboard seating positions. Safety belts have saved tens of thousands of lives since they were first required, yet 30 percent or more passenger vehicle occupants, especially young people ages 16 to 24, do not buckle their seat belts.

Air bags are currently required for the protection of belted and unbelted occupants in both outboard front seating positions in all new passenger vehicles. Air bags have proven effective, especially for unbelted occupants. According to NHTSA's estimate, air bags have saved nearly 4,000 lives since they began to be installed in vehicles. However, the deaths of more than 120 people, many of whom are children, have been associated with air bag deployments. These fatalities have occurred predominantly in low-speed crashes when air bag protection is generally not necessary. This safety problem requires an upgrade of the standard to ensure that performance requirements for advanced air bags systems will result in adequate protection in relatively high speed crashes while not causing harm in comparatively low-speed incidents.

Frontal crashes often involve high speed impacts that present a serious threat to safety. To address the danger of death or serious injury in frontal crashes the standard requires a frontal crash test at any speed up to and including 30 miles-per-hour (mph), and at any angle up to 30 degrees in either direction. Currently, however, the standard permits the use of a generic sled test in the unbelted mode as an alternative test procedure for air bag restraint effectiveness. Safety performance is assessed based on established injury criteria for head, chest, neck, and leg loading, and is evaluated by use of test surrogates (crash test dummies) during crash testing.

BENEFITS: While the existing standard has saved thousands of lives through seat belt and air bag requirements, major elements of the standard need to be upgraded to improve safety. First, frontal crash testing under the standard should be conducted at speeds above 30 mph. While the vehicle fleet mix and vehicle designs have changed, and prevailing highway speeds now often exceed 65 mph, compliance testing is still limited to frontal crashes up to 30 mph. NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) crash tests vehicles at 35 mph but only for consumer informational purposes and only with belted crash test dummies. Frontal crash protection, particularly in conjunction with advanced air bags, should be required at compliance test speeds of 40 mph or higher.

Second, additional crash test modes need to be added to Standard No. 208 to ensure the standard provides adequate crash testing that is representative of the majority of real-world crashes. A high speed off-set crash test should be added to better test for intrusion into the occupant compartment. Moreover, the substitution of non-real-world, generic sled testing as an alternative test procedure must be deleted from the standard since it is not representative of real-world crashes and does not provide a test of the dynamic interaction between the air bag, the vehicle and the occupant, especially for the unrestrained occupant. Some of these issues are now under consideration by the agency as part of the rulemaking on advanced air bag systems.

Third, improvements can be required to provide better lap/shoulder belt protection for belted occupants. Lap/shoulder belts should be required in all seating positions, not just the outboard seating positions. In addition, pre-tensioners and load limiters would improve the performance of seat belts and their interaction with air bags. Finally, new electronic and technological methods should be adopted to remind occupants to buckle their seat belts when they enter the vehicle.


BACKGROUND: The technical specifications for seat belts are contained in Standard No. 209. Seat belts that adjust to the users body size and shape, and that fit more comfortably, are more likely to be worn by vehicle occupants. However, other than requiring lap/shoulder belts in outboard seating positions, improvements in seat belt systems have been limited. Although NHTSA adopted a minimum requirement for adjustable upper anchorages, that requirement did not dramatically improve seat belt design nor contribute to an increase in seat belt use rates. Moreover, no new requirements have been added to ensure the use of safety design improvements such as load limiters, pre-tensioners, or inflatable belt systems. Seat belt systems can and should be designed as part of the seating system, a concept referred to as an integrated seat belt system.

Benefits: Integrated seat belt systems will reduce injuries among those who wear seat belts. The integrated seat belt would be part of the seat back and would move along with the seat when the seat is repositioned. This design improvement would ensure that the angle of the seat belt would not change as the vehicle seat is moved. This will ensure a better, more comfortable fit for a broader cross section of the public. It could also result in more non-users deciding to wear seat belts since integrated seat belts would provide a more comfortable fit.

In addition, seat belt systems must be equipped with load limiters and pre-tensioners as standard equipment on all models to improve the effectiveness of seat belts and to reduce the possibility of belt-induced injuries, especially among older occupants.


BACKGROUND: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages five through fifteen. While Standard No. 213 applies to all types of infant and child restraint systems designed for children, it only covers children up to 50 pounds in weight. Thus, children who weigh over 50 pounds, or who are above the age (often 4 years old) or weight (usually 40 pounds) designated in state mandatory child restraint use laws, are not protected. In 1997, 446 children between the ages of five and nine were killed, and another 104,000 in that age group were injured as passengers in motor vehicles. In addition, many more children above the age of nine are killed or injured because, while too large for child restraint systems, they are not large enough to safely fit seat belt systems mandated for adults. Although Standard No. 213 permits the voluntary use of belt positioning booster seats, it provides no performance requirements for booster seats and the use of booster seats as a transition from child restraint systems to adult seat belts is not required by either state law or federal regulation.

Young children are not adequately protected as passengers in motor vehicles. Despite the fact that all states require the use of child restraint systems for children under the age of five years old, and Standard No. 213 regulates child restraint performance requirements, in 1997, there were 652 deaths and 81,000 injuries to children under five riding in motor vehicles. Part of the problem is the failure to use appropriate child restraints in addition to the gaps in current child restraint laws. Although child restraint systems are the most effective means of protecting young children in motor vehicles, the high rate of misinstallation of child restraints and the incompatibility of certain child restraints with some vehicles represent serious dangers to children under five. In order to reduce instances of child restraint misinstallation, NHTSA has adopted changes to Standard No. 213 and has established a new standard for uniform child restraint anchorages. Despite the safety improvement the new child restraint anchorage system will eventually bring, the new requirements will not affect vehicles on the road today and will take years before most vehicles in the fleet are properly equipped.

Child restraints are predominately manufactured as add-on, or aftermarket, consumer items. Built-in child restraint systems that are part of the vehicle structure afford greater stability but are only offered as optional equipment on a limited number of makes and models. Standard No. 213 requires child restraint manufacturers to make appropriate use recommendations based on child height and weight (mass) ranges determined by testing with child test dummies. The standard also requires instructional information and warning labels as well as the inclusion of child restraint registration cards to facilitate communication of recalls by the manufacturer to the purchaser.

Benefits: Children are the most vulnerable occupant population and have the least control over their safety. Improving the safety environment in the vehicle to accommodate children would reduce the number of fatalities and injuries suffered by children from infants to 15 years old. To improve safety for older children NHTSA should extend the scope of Standard No. 213 to cover children who weigh up to 80 pounds, require performance standards for child booster seats, and require additional child-sized surrogates to test those seats, regulate for after-market seat belt positioning devices, and require better designs for adult seat belts to properly fit older children.


BACKGROUND: Side impacts are a leading source of motor vehicle deaths and severe injuries. More than one-third of serious to severe injuries sustained each year by occupants in passenger vehicle crashes are the result of side impacts. The safety problem of side impact crashes has become more acute over the past decade because of the rapid, disproportionate growth in the popularity and market share of light trucks and vans (LTVs), particularly sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Even though LTVs are still only one-third of registered passenger vehicles, about half of all deaths in side impact crashes are the result of crashes in which an LTV struck another vehicle.

On average, LTVs are heavier, higher, and stiffer than passenger cars. When a large LTV strikes a passenger car or small LTV in its side, the differences in mass between the two vehicles are further compounded because the large LTV is manufactured with an independent frame which resists front end deformation much more than a car with unibody construction. Also, large LTVs usually strike smaller passenger vehicles above the protective rigid sills and rocker panels so that resulting intrusion into the passenger compartment is more severe.

Standard No. 214 was adopted in 1971 consisting primarily of a quasi-static test in which a rigid cylinder was pressed against the sides of cars to test how well they resist intrusion. NHTSA added a new, separate dynamic compliance test for cars in 1990. This test used a 3,000 pound moveable deformable barrier to evaluate how well cars respond to an actual lateral impact. Although NHTSA subsequently proposed extending the standard to LTVs, and appropriately to increase the severity of the test and the mass and height of the barrier, the agency received strong opposition. As a result, NHTSA only extended the standard for testing cars to LTVs, an action which it acknowledged to be an inadequate indication of side impact safety especially for small vans, pickups, and SUVs.

Standard No. 214 in its current form is too weak to properly ensure side impact safety. A passing score still permits a 50 percent chance of a serious injury to the thorax and pelvis. In addition, manufacturers can achieve compliance by simply adding extra padding to the interior sides of small passenger vehicles. Although some manufacturers have begun using thorax air bags in lieu of static padding as a compliance measure, these bags are not available in most vehicles, are often available only as options, and sometimes achieve compliance scores which are no better than the vehicles with better scores from using padding alone.

BENEFITS: Standard No. 214 needs to be upgraded in a number of ways. The current barrier used to test small passenger vehicles is too light, too low to the ground, and the 33.5 miles-per-hour impact it provides is substantially mitigated in severity by "crabbing" its wheels so that the side impact is a glancing blow. Standard No. 214 also sets passing scores for pelvic and thorax injuries that are too indulgent: a vehicle can comply and still allow serious injuries to occupants in side impacts. The type of tests for injury need to be updated and the passing scores should be more demanding. Also, the standard needs to be appropriately modified and extended to larger LTVs.

A rulemaking petition recently granted by NHTSA indicates how these improvements could be accomplished and includes closer coordination with the part of Standard No. 201 which regulates upper interior side impact. Since Standard No. 201 has recently been strengthened by the addition of a much more demanding, optional compliance test, Standard No. 214 could be similarly upgraded. NHTSA's 1994 benefits analysis showed that scores of deaths and hundreds of serious injuries could annually be prevented by better side impact safety countermeasures at only moderate costs to manufacturers.


BACKGROUND: Light passenger vehicle resistance to roof crush during rollover crashes is crucial to occupant safety. Both general and localized roof failures reduce occupant compartment space and result in very high fatality and severe injury rates. About half of all passenger vehicle fatalities result from single-vehicle crashes and more than half of these deaths are the direct result of light vehicle rollovers. Although a large portion of these fatal injuries are caused by occupant ejections, the majority are the consequence of occupants suffering massive trauma from impacting unyielding objects and surfaces because of general and localized roof failure.

The current roof crush standard has not undergone major revision since its inception in 1971. The standard specifies a static compliance test consisting of the application of force, by means of a rigid, rectangular plate, of 1.5 times the unladen weight of the tested vehicle (or 5,000 pounds, whichever is less) to either of the two sides of the forward edge of the roof. The test is acknowledged by NHTSA to be inadequate in multiple ways: it does not model actual rollover forces, the amount of force applied to the forward A-pillar area is too low, and the test fails to evaluate other areas of the roof for resistance to failure, including the roof's ability to withstand localized applications of force. Also, the current standard does not have criteria governing the permissible levels of injury in order to pass the compliance test.

Over 90 percent of rollover crashes occur off the traveled way. Therefore, roof crush standards must be based directly on the type of roadside topography encountered by light vehicles which includes tree stumps, fire hydrants, rocks, guardrail posts, and other fixed object hazards. Rollover crashes often involve roof contact with these roadside features which apply localized, intrusive forces. In addition to these localized failures, current roof designs often also suffer general failure in rollover crashes because of roof pillar collapse. Although some measure of protection against head and neck trauma is afforded by recent and prospective improvements in the stringency of FMVSS No. 201, these advantages of better protection for interior head impacts are largely nullified if the occupant compartment cannot maintain its integrity in full rollover crashes.

Recent NHTSA studies of roof crush have shown that a dynamic roof crush test may not be feasible because of a lack of repeatability and the fact that even a vehicle drop test does not realistically duplicate real-world rollover forces. Also, current data cannot show what level of impact severity should be chosen for rollover crashes in order to model a dynamic test. However, recent evaluation of a new quasi-static test has shown a close relationship to the actual forces involved in full rollover crashes. This appears to provide the best basis for a realistic standard.

In 1994, the then Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation promised to improve the crush resistance of light vehicle roofs. At the time that NHTSA terminated rulemaking on a vehicle stability standard for cars and LTVs, the Secretary announced that action would be taken to improve roof crush protection. No action to upgrade the standard has yet been issued.

BENEFITS: While potential benefits are difficult to quantify with specificity, a revised standard based directly on the forces actually applied to a passenger vehicle's roof in full rollover crashes would dramatically reduce both deaths and severity of injury due to roof failures. Benefits would range widely depending on the rigor of the compliance test chosen by NHTSA.


BACKGROUND: Standard No. 301 first became effective for cars in 1968 with the primary purpose of reducing deaths and injuries from fires that result from fuel spillage during and after motor vehicle crashes. The standard, as amended in 1977, applies to all passenger vehicles as well as to school buses that exceed 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating. The essential features of the standard have remained unchanged for the past 20 years.

According to NHTSA crash data, there are more than 20,000 passenger vehicle fires each year that result from crash involvement. The agency estimates that about three percent of the occupants receive second or third degree burns. Of these, more than 700 occupants die who have been moderately or seriously burned. However, many of these deaths are also due in part to severe impact injuries which often occur in vehicle crashes involving fires.

The central feature of Standard No. 301 is its limitation of the amount of fuel spillage when vehicles are tested in front, rear, and side impacts by flat, rigid barriers. There also is a "static" rollover test following the barrier impacts. However, there are no offset front or rear impact tests, no test conducted with a rigid, narrow fixed object such as a pole or tree (such crashes cause the highest rate of burn injuries), and the rollover test simply rotates the tested vehicle 90 degrees without the rollover damage, including roof crush, that would occur in the real world. NHTSA data shows that actual rollover crashes have the highest rate of occupants receiving burn injuries in both cars and light trucks and vans.

NHTSA initiated rulemaking in June 1995 to begin a three-stage improvement to Standard No. 301. The agency planned to upgrade the barrier tests to make them more severe, ensure that the flow of fuel from the gas tank is stopped in a crash, and set performance requirements for the long term integrity of fuel systems which, in older passenger vehicles, have been shown by NHTSA research to be more vulnerable to deterioration caused by corrosion and vibration. The agency has preliminarily reviewed the potential of adding the dynamic side impact test of Standard No. 214 as well as offset frontal and rear crash tests using barriers more representative of real-world crash conditions. However, no rulemaking action has taken place since 1995.

BENEFITS: It is clear the extent to which protection from fires due to spilled fuel interacts with both crash avoidance and crashworthiness standards. Many fires could be avoided by increasing roll stability for the entire passenger vehicle fleet to prevent rollover crashes. With regard to crashworthiness, a rollover test of fuel systems must accurately simulate the actual crash forces occurring in a rollover crash. Similarly, the fuel system retention requirement in the current standard is much too weak and permits a rate and amount of fuel to escape which dramatically increases the chances of ignition and consequent vehicle fires. Standard No. 301 currently allows up to 31 ounces by weight of gasoline to be released following the completion of the front, side, and rear impact tests. Also, the static rollover test is defective because fuel leakage is permitted to occur until the tank is empty as long as the leak rate of one ounce per minute is not exceeded.

Other countermeasures can have additional substantial lifesaving results. NHTSA estimates that nearly one-third of all vehicle fires could be prevented simply by placing tanks forward of rear axles. Additional fires could be easily prevented if the compliance tests included a hydraulic pressure test and a strong battery retention requirement for all crash modes. Moreover, NHTSA should explore fuel flow shutoff measures and performance requirements for preventing tank filler pipe rupture in crashes.


BACKGROUND: NHTSA is required by the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (1966 Act) and the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972 (1972 Act) to provide vehicle information to consumers. Under the 1966 Act, the agency may require manufacturers to provide technical information on vehicle and equipment performance and safety. Under the 1972 Act, information on vehicle damage susceptibility, crashworthiness, and vehicle operating costs was to be provided in a readily understandable form that would permit comparisons between different makes and models. As long ago as 1981, NHTSA raised the possibility of placing crashworthiness ratings on vehicle window stickers. In 1994, the agency proposed providing comprehensive consumer information on vehicle safety issues, including rollover, holding a series of town meetings. Nothing ever came of these ideas. In 1996, the National Academy of Sciences called on the agency to provide overall safety ratings in its study on consumer safety information, Shopping for Safety, Transportation Research Board Special report No. 248 (1996). The agency has provided only a very limited amount of information, mostly in the form of warning labels, and almost no information of a comparative nature that would assist consumers in making vehicle purchases.

There is a significant need, and clear consumer demand, for information that provides safety evaluations and which can be used to compare the relative safety of different vehicles and items of equipment by make and model. While private sources provide some information, only the agency can require the type of technical data on issues such as vehicle stability (rollover propensity), vehicle stopping distances, and brake performance.

Despite more than 30 years since Congress first mandated the issuance of consumer information, NHTSA only provides a minimal amount of data to consumers. Warning label requirements exist in the occupant protection and child restraint standards, and utility vehicle warnings are required in Part 575 (§575.105). The only other consumer information required by the agency in Part 575 is information on Truck-camper loading (§575.103) and the Uniform Tire Quality Grading Standards (§575.104). Aside from this, the best example of a government information program and the only substantive consumer information provided on comparative crashworthiness is through NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program (NCAP).

BENEFITS: Safety information about vehicle design and equipment is essential to ensure that consumers can make intelligent decisions about their personal safety. Since much of the safety equipment and safety design issues are highly technical in nature, consumers need basic information that explains safety performance issues in understandable terms. Information that consumers can use to compare vehicle makes and models would provide consumers with the opportunity to make informed choices about the safety of the vehicles they purchase. Thus, consumer information is essential to a rational marketplace. While the savings to the public cannot be quantified, comprehensive safety information would in all probability lead to reduced crashes as consumers use the information to purchase safer, better designed vehicles.


BACKGROUND: The existing Federal Bumper Standard, Part 581OF THE Code of Federal Regulations, provides minimal protection for vehicle safety systems while permitting low impact speed crashes to result in significant damage to the vehicle. Vehicle bumper strength was originally established to protect the safety systems of vehicles in low speed crashes of up to 2.5 miles-per-hour (mph) regardless of damage to the bumper itself or to vehicle parts other than the safety systems. The standard was upgraded to require protection in impacts of speeds up to 5.0 mph and the bumper itself could sustain only minimal damage, but this requirement was rescinded before it took effect in the early 1980s. As a result, in low speed impacts of 2.5 mph or less, bumpers provide only minimal protection to the vehicle safety systems and the body of the vehicle. The bumpers themselves can be destroyed and frequently need extensive repairs or have to be replaced. As the cost of vehicles has increased dramatically over the years, so has the cost of vehicle repair and bumper repair and replacement. Moreover, vehicle purchasers cannot discern bumper strength merely by looking at a bumper, and little reliable information on actual bumper strength, including whether the bumper and vehicle parts will be damaged or destroyed at given impact speeds, is available to the consumer.

BENEFITS: Upgrading the bumper standard to require bumpers to withstand impact speeds of 5.0 mph or higher would provide enhanced protection to the vehicle safety systems and reduce overall consumer vehicle repair and part replacement costs. Repair and replacement costs for damaged caused in low speed crashes currently run into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.




State Highway Safety Laws

as of 9/8/99

STATE GDL Systems* Partial GDL Systems** Standard (Primary) Safety Belt Enforcement .08 BAC Child Restraint No Gaps+ All-Rider Helmet Laws Red Light Running Photo Enforcement Laws++
Alabama x x x
Alaska x
Arizona x
Arkansas x
California x x x x x x
Colorado x x x
Connecticut x x x
Delaware x x x
DC x x x x x
Florida x x x x
Georgia x x x x
Hawaii x

(eff. 1/1/01)

x x x
Idaho x
Illinois x x x
Indiana x x
Iowa x x
Kansas x
Kentucky x x
Louisiana x x
Maine x x x
Maryland x x x x x
Massachusetts x x x
Michigan x x

(eff. 4/1/00)

x x
Minnesota x
Mississippi x
Missouri x

(eff. 1/1/01)

x x
Montana x
Nebraska x x
Nevada x x
New Hampshire x x x
New Jersey x

(eff. 1/1/00)

New Mexico x

(eff. 1/1/00)

x x
New York x x x
North Carolina x x x x x
North Dakota x x
Ohio x
Oklahoma x
Oregon x

(eff. 3/1/00)

x x x x x

(eff. 10/23/99)

Pennsylvania x

(eff. 12/99)

Rhode Island x x
South Carolina x
South Dakota x
Tennessee x
Texas x x

(eff. 9/1/99)

Utah x x
Vermont x x x
Virginia x x x x x
Washington x x x x
West Virginia x x
TOTALS 23/ 16 10 17 18 24 22 13


* Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Systems: GDL systems are classified according to the specifications of a model graduated licensing law developed by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances (NCUTLO). NCUTLO's model law specifies core provisions for graduated licensing, but it doesn't include a variety of other important features that can enhance a graduated system. This first column includes states that both contain NCUTLO's core provisions and states that contain elements of the core provisions but do not meet the exact criteria for all three provisions. (Chart shows GDL systems that have been enacted since 1996.)

NCUTLO's Core Provisions: States under the first column that also have a " †" next to the "x" have laws which include NCUTLO's three core provisions:

1. Learner's phase of at least six months;

2. Intermediate phase of at least six months; and

3. Prohibition of unsupervised driving at night during the intermediate phase.

** Partial GDL Systems: Contain either a mandatory holding period for a learner's permit or night driving restrictions once licensed. (Chart shows states that have enacted partial GDL systems since 1996.)

+ Child Restraint No Gaps: A state is considered not to have gaps in its child restraint law if all occupants under the age of 16 are covered by either a child restraint law or a safety belt law.

++ Red Light Running Photo Enforcement: Laws vary widely among the states. While some states require enabling legislation to allow municipalities to operate red light running photo enforcement programs, other states do not require legislation and the decision is made by each county. Red light running photo enforcement laws can hold either the owner or a driver other than the owner liable for the photographed incident. An owner liability law provides for a civil penalty against the registered owner of the vehicle photographed running a red light, regardless of who was driving at the time of the incident. A driver liability law provides for a civil penalty against the driver of the vehicle photographed running a red light. Depending on the type of information needed to issue a ticket, the red light cameras can be set to photograph only the license plate or both the license plate and the driver's face.

(Sources: Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign, American Automobile Association, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Transportation Safety Board, and National SAFE KIDS Campaign)

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