It is outrageous that the death toll on our nation's highways is increasing. And it is perplexing that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is unable - or unwilling - to confront all of the causes seriously.
NHTSA reported that 42,850 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, up 1.7 percent from the number of people killed in 2001 and the highest annual total since 1990. Yet NHTSA's administrator, Dr. Jeffrey Runge, said what is needed is a greater emphasis on getting drunken drivers off the road and teaching people to wear seat belts.
Yes, there are too many irresponsible drunks on the road, and there are too many fools who don't wear their seat belts.
NHTSA data showed that rollovers by pickups and SUVs accounted for 53 percent of the increase in fatalities. Some SUV owners do drive recklessly, but it's not always because they're morons. The attorneys general of 40 states and territories have warned 16 automakers that some of their ads deceive consumers into believing that SUVs handle like cars.
That can be a fatal deception. SUVs are sold as cars and used as cars, so they're driven as cars. Together, the consumer and the industry have created a passenger vehicle that in terms of rollovers is less safe on the road than the sedans we once drove. A billion-dollar information campaign will not change driver behavior, but as a first step automakers must stop any misleading advertising.
Tremendous gains in vehicle safety have been made during the past 40 years. But it's up to NHTSA and the industry to make SUVs that people want to buy that will not roll over so easily. That could mean changing the vehicle's stance so the center of gravity is lower or adding stability control - or whatever it takes.