Auto & Traffic Safety Are The Focus Of 4 New US Senate Bills

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Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)  reintroduced a collection of 4 bills designed to improve automotive and traffic safety across the United States. The lawmakers — both of whom are members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee — say they are releasing the proposals for inclusion in the congressional debate on a comprehensive infrastructure package and the next surface transportation reauthorization legislation. The bills cover the speed of auto recalls, auto manufacturing reporting standards, distracted driving rules,  and a focus on seat back integrity.

All 4 bills have been endorsed by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Center for Auto Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety,, the National Consumers League, Consumer Reports, Safety Research and Strategies, Safe Roads Alliance, and The PARTS Act and the SAFE Act have also been endorsed by the National Safety Council.

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Markey stated that such legislation would make US road travel safer through upgrades to infrastructure.

“Every year on average, over 36,000 people are killed and nearly three million more are injured in motor vehicle crashes. These numbers reveal a public health crisis that we must not accept as inevitable. We can prevent these unnecessary tragedies with proven strategies and technologies. That’s why I am proud to reintroduce a robust legislative package that will address several of the most dangerous safety issues on our roads. As Congress debates infrastructure and surface transportation reauthorization in the weeks ahead, I will fight for these bills and ensure that safety is at the forefront of everything we do. Upgrading our roads and highways also means upgrading safety.”

The Auto & Traffic Safety Bills: A Summary

Promoting Auto Recalls Toward Safety (PARTS) Act

The first bill – the Promoting Auto Recalls Toward Safety (PARTS) Act – will increase the speed and effectiveness of motor vehicle recalls in the wake of lessons learned from the infamous Takata airbag recall. The PARTS Act will specifically authorize the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide grants to states for use in notifying registered motor vehicle owners about manufacturer-issued safety recalls, as well as require additional reporting and an annual scorecard on how effectively automakers are completing any recalls. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is also a cosponsor of this legislation.

Early Warning Reporting Systems Improvement Act

The second bill – the Early Warning Reporting Systems Improvement Act – will fill a safety gap created by the historically low number of defect investigations launched by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in recent years. The legislation ensures that auto manufacturers will provide more information about incidents involving fatalities and serious injuries directly to the public. It will also require NHTSA to make the information it receives publicly available in a user-friendly format, so that consumers and independent safety experts can evaluate potential safety defects themselves.

Stay Aware for Everyone (SAFE) Act

The third bill – the Stay Aware for Everyone (SAFE) Act – will tackle the threat of distracted driving, a problem that is only increasing with the proliferation of “driver assistance” technologies that can encourage complacency if misused on the road. The SAFE Act will specifically require the DOT to study how driver-monitoring systems can prevent driver distraction, driver disengagement, automation complacency, and the foreseeable misuse of advanced driver-assist systems. The legislation also requires a rulemaking to mandate the installation of driver-monitoring systems based on the results of this study, which shall incorporate appropriate privacy and data security safeguards. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is also a cosponsor of this legislation.

Modernizing Seat Back Safety Act

The fourth bill – the Modernizing Seat Back Safety Act – will address the thousands of preventable fatalities and life-threatening injuries that have occurred because of motor vehicle seat failure during a collision. The legislation will require NHTSA to update its standards for seat back integrity in new cars, an essential action that NHSTA has neglected to take for more than 50 years despite repeated tragedies.

What Implications Do These Bills Have for Electric Vehicles?

Consumers can rest assured that electric cars are as safe as their internal combustion engine counterparts thanks to “encouraging” results from a new series of crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently tested a range of new electric vehicles from manufacturers including Ford, Tesla, Volvo, and more — and awarded them with “safety pick” honors. Investigations showed that injury claims for electric vehicles were about 40% lower than accidents involving identical gas-powered models, according to data from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI). Electric vehicle batteries weigh a lot, making the cars themselves heavier than traditional cars. The extra weight may also provide a safety boost, according to IIHS, as research shows that occupants in heavier vehicles experience less force in a crash, leading to fewer injuries.

Earlier this year, the all-electric Audi e-tron, Audi e-tron Sportback, and Tesla Model 3 qualified for 2021 TOP SAFETY PICK+ awards. The 2021 TOP SAFETY PICK award requires good ratings in all six IIHS crashworthiness tests — driver- and passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints. Winners must also be available with good or acceptable headlights and a front crash prevention system that earns advanced or superior ratings in both the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian evaluations. To qualify for the “plus,” vehicles must come with good or acceptable headlights across all trim levels and packages.

Tesla picked up its first award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety with the 2019 Model 3.

Many people are under the impression that electric vehicle batteries pose a significant risk due to their flammability. Actually, when compared to the flammability of gasoline, Li-ion batteries pose a far lower risk of fire or explosions. In cases of vehicular fires that were the result of damaged Li-ion batteries, the fire was limited to the area where the batteries were contained before it could be extinguished. In cases of vehicle fires that were the result of spilled gasoline or damaged fuel-delivery components, the fire tended to spread to other parts of the vehicle before it could be contained, and those fires also required more effort from firefighters to extinguish.

Last week, the story of a fatal Tesla crash near Houston, TX made lots of news. When CEO Elon Musk said that the crash data indicated that Autopilot wasn’t engaged, speculation ran rampant, with many concluding that Autopilot must’ve been on if there wasn’t a driver in the driver’s seat.  There’s new evidence emerging that there was a driver in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash.

Like so many areas of the media today, scare tactics restrain some people from moving ahead with commitments to cleantech and renewables. Yes, there are EV recalls, but these don’t exceed or even come close to the recalls of ICE vehicles.

The Markey/ Blumenthal bills do merit our attention, and auto and traffic safety should always be an element of transportation regulations. With strong structures, extensive crumple zones, and multiple airbags, electric vehicle designers ensure that occupants are as well protected as possible in the event of an accident and are devoting appropriate attention to assure traffic safety.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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