NHTSA and Illegal Stops

The Presidential Election is just weeks away. As we get closer to November 6th, 2012, the political ads and fervor are building to a climax. However, we at the Dolman Law Group noticed one thing; there’s an alarming lack of discussion regarding auto accident prevention and highway safety.

It’s surprising because even politicians are not immune from the devastation of auto accidents. Former President Clinton’s biological father dies in a crash in the 1940s, after being ejected from a vehicle. Former President Bush’s wife, Laura, struck and killed a family neighbor in the 1960s. President Obama’s father dies in a 1982 automobile collision. Vice President Biden’s wife and infant child died in a car-truck accident in 1972

Over the past 20 years, the number of automobile accidents remained around 11,000,000 accidents a year.  The rate of deaths has fallen in recent years by around 10,000 per year. This could explain some of the complacency in the campaigns.

Some might argue that the market and tort laws have largely wiped out this issue. However, most see this lack of significant decreases in the number of accidents as a sign of apathy on the part of manufacturers and the government.

President Lyndon Johnson confronted the auto industry in 1965 by demanding and passing new laws governing the safety of automobiles. While these laws made significant strides, no other presidents have take up the cause with such fervor. Even more disconcerting is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) seems more like a friend of the auto industry, rather than an agency regulating it.

Instead of enacting proactive measures to prevent future harms, the NHTSA’s policies are more reactive. Even worse, they’re not only reactive in addressing issues, but also severely underfunded. This forces the NHTSA to be a mere finger-wagging organization, rather than the rigorous organization meant to keep the auto industry in line. Toyota’s most recent unintended acceleration issues demonstrated this lack of resources. The NHTSA had little to no power to investigate these issues.

Some argue that the lowering of the injuries since 2008 is due to the recession. However, in the first quarter of 2012 the number of deaths turned upward, signaling an increase in economic activities, such as driving. This upward trend should indicate to politicians that it’s time to take action.

A good start would be taking a stance against distracted driving. Manufacturers are beginning to install “infotainment” features on today’s cars. A lot of these features are extremely useful, but also distracting. However, regulators are unable to come to a consensus on what should be done. Many authorities on the subject of distracted driving suggest that some features, such as video playback within the drivers’ line of sight should be disabled while the vehicle is in movement.

With the election just around the corner, people need to consider which executive will be able to wield his power in a manner that will seek to curb automobile collisions. It is our hope that both candidates take up this matter; however, without serious political funding behind the issue, it is unlikely to happen.

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