There is an old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The well-worn truism applies to a wide spectrum of life: politics, love, sports, raising families and yes, it even applies to auto safety. Allow us to explain.
Back in 1966, consumer advocate Ralph Nader (a Connecticut native) published his landmark “Unsafe at Any Speed,” exposing how automakers failed to consider motorist safety in the designs of new vehicles. Nader detailed how the industry knew of the significant safety benefits of seatbelts, padded dashboards and collapsible steering columns, but focused instead on bigger engines and flashy looks.
Outraged consumers applied pressure on legislators and regulators who in turn forced the auto industry to incorporate the aforementioned safety features and more in the coming years.
The changes have paid off, too. Back in 1966, when Nader single-handedly launched the consumer advocacy movement, there were 5.50 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles driven in the U.S. By 1980, that figure had fallen to 3.34 and by 2015, it had dropped to 1.12.
Americans today drive about 3 trillion miles per year. Imagine if those safety innovations had never been adopted. Rather than losing about 38,000 people per year in motor vehicle crashes, we would lose about 190,000 lives annually.
“The more things change…”
Unfortunately, automakers today are still resistant to change designed to protect people, just as they were back in 1966. And legislators and regulators are little better.
A recent news article points out that year after year, federal regulators fail to consider pedestrian safety in vehicle safety standards. But the good news is that the Government Accountability Office is determined to change that.
The GAO is pressuring the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to require manufacturers to test how likely their vehicles are to kill pedestrians in collisions. Currently, the auto industry is only required to meet safety standards for people who are inside of vehicles.
The surge in popularity of SUVs and pick-up trucks makes the need for pedestrian safety standards more urgent than ever. A recent news article shared a particularly grim statistic: “the probability of death for a pedestrian who gets hit by a larger-than-average vehicle is 3.4 times higher than one who gets hit by a smaller passenger car.”
Not only are the larger vehicles heavier (which means they strike pedestrians with more force), but because of their designs and higher clearances, pedestrians are more likely to be struck in the neck and head areas than they are with cars, where the initial impact is often at the legs.
In addition to growth in vehicle sizes, another factor in rising pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries rates is the steady increase in distracted driving.
Let’s hope that regulators, legislators and automakers can implement design and technology changes that will better protect those who are on foot.