Every five years, the U.S. Congress tackles issues regarding the regulation and safety of the nation’s roadways through the Surface Transportation Act — the latest version is woefully inadequate on multiple levels contends a group of politicians and safety advocates.
The proposed Auto Safety & Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021, introduced by Senate Commerce Committee fails to address critical areas and could roll back key regulations about the age and working hours of commercial truckers, according to safety advocates.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), safety advocates, and families affected by truck crashes, faulty child safety seats and child hot car deaths, said during a virtual press conference the proposed legislation to address long-standing issues around the death of children in hot cars with new alarms and the failure of car seats in rear-end crashes where an occupant is thrown forward and then back with new, inexpensive fixes is not acceptable.
Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which pushes for tighter regulation, also said automatic emergency braking must become mandatory equipment on every vehicle sold in the United States.
With the toll from road accidents rising — 39,000 deaths and 3 million injuries last year — the Surface Transportation Bill should require vehicles to be equipped proven crash avoidance technology that can detect and respond to pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable roads users with a date certain for compliance Clegg said.
Improving truck safety critical
The trucking industry is working to stifle the requirements, while carmakers are looking to protect the business they have developed by “upselling” AEB technology as part of option packages rather than making it available on every vehicle they sell, she said.
In addition, the trucking companies are pushing for longer hours and reducing the age requirement for commercial licenses to 18 from 21.
Stephen Loesche, who works on regulatory issues for Teamster Union, said the effort to increase the hours of service and lower the age of drivers increase the risk to union members. Half of the union 1.4 million members are employed as drivers and driving a truck is already the most dangerous job in America.
More than 5,000 people now die every year in car truck crashes, he said, and the younger truck drivers are six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash. Meanwhile, the drivers of the delivery trucks do not even have to meet the physical requirements needed to quality for a Class 8 Commercial license, safety advocates note.
Driver monitoring needed
Safety advocates want vehicles to be equipped with driver monitoring systems by a date certain to prevent automation complacency and curb leading crash causes including distracted, impaired and drowsy driving
The new legislation also should require improvements to hood and bumper standards by a date certain to better protect bicyclists and pedestrians.
Expand protections for issues associated with keyless ignition switches to address rollaways and curb carbon monoxide poisoning. The legislation also requires and update safety databases and an overdue update of the New Car Assessment to Program (NCAP) to adequately address the safety of VRUs. It also should prevent vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls from being sold, leased or loaned.