Is The Transportation Department Focusing On The Safety Issues?

The Wall Street Journal published interesting article about the U.S. Transportation Department and whether they are focusing on the correct safety issues. More specifically, the article calls into question the federal government’s focus on texting and driving and defective Toyotas.  According to Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the U.S. Transportation Department, Congress and the media have gotten sidetracked by issues like texting while driving.

Lund’s organization is the safety research and advocacy arm of the insurance industry. The IIHS has been critical of the government’s highway safety policies over the past few years, usually arguing that the government wasn’t moving fast enough to require better crash-prevention technology from auto makers.  Lund and the Insurance Institute also say recent laws banning motorists from using mobile phones behind the wheel don’t correlate with a significant reduction in accidents. “You’d think from the media coverage, congressional hearings, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s focus in recent months that separating drivers from their phones would all but solve the public-health problem of  car crash  deaths and injuries,” he wrote. “It won’t.”

As for the Toyota sudden acceleration uproar, Mr. Lund says, “a lot of this looks like it may be pedal error”—meaning human error related to design—”so it’s very important that we have research on how pedals could be redesigned.” Congress and the Transportation department have focused more attention on potential problems with vehicle electronics.

The Transportation Department has responded to the IIHS report:

“Safety is the Department of Transportation’s number one priority, which is why we are aggressively and urgently tackling a number of risks to drivers’ safety. We are going to continue taking drunk drivers off the road, getting people to put down their phones and other distractions, making sure cars and trucks are safe to drive, and doing whatever else is necessary to keep Americans safe behind the wheel,” a DOT spokeswoman said in a statement.  In 2008 alone, nearly 6,000 people were killed and more than half a million were injured in crashes involving distracted driving,” the DOT spokeswoman said.

The IIHS report is interesting but I don’t think it is time to ignore the problems with distracted driving and drinking and driving.  Too much progress has been made the last few years to suddenly ignore this issue.

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I am sure it has been assumed by most that cars manufactured in the modern era are much safer than those made in the 50s, 60s and 70s. This assumption was proved true by a recent study performed by the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety.

Demonstrating this was a crash test conducted on Sept. 9 between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu. In a real-world collision similar to this test, occupants of the new model would fare much better than in the vintage Chevy.

“It was night and day, the difference in occupant protection,” says Institute president Adrian Lund. “What this test shows is that automakers don’t build cars like they used to. They build them better.”

Say what you want about the struggling American auto makers, but I think it is fair to say that we are sitting in safer vehicles than the ones our grandparents drove.

Click here to read the complete story and watch the video of the crash test.

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