To the Editor:
Crashes still kill more than 30,000 motorists annually and seriously injure as many. Keith Crain's Jan. 26 column, "Time to rethink auto safety," presented an aspect of what we should think about, but we are effectively driving blind: We have little timely detail on what is happening in crashes.
The police -- the front line in reporting on crashes -- still use 20th-century techniques: Photographs are not a required part of crash reports; investigators rarely download critical data from vehicle crash recorders, and they don't use satellite maps as a basis for scene diagrams.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is trying to redesign its crash-reporting systems. Police investigators have access to the freshest, most complete information on a crash. Police crash reports could provide a basis for substantially better national crash databases, but NHTSA refuses to ask states to update their police accident-reporting requirements.
The agency could recommend that states use some of the half billion dollars a year they collectively receive in incentive grants from NHTSA for new software and training to enhance crash investigation and reporting. More detailed, timely crash data would point to the most efficient and effective driver, vehicle and road safety improvements.
Production technologies can reduce the probability of a crash and the severity of injuries when crashes occur. Crash avoidance systems -- electronic co-pilots that include lane monitoring and smart cruise control -- should be standard equipment on all new vehicles, not just expensive options on some. Further improvements in occupant crash protection are also available.
Addressing driver factors -- the specialty of NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind -- can promote safety gains; but NHTSA must do more to understand the causes of crashes and crash injuries and to make vehicle use safer.
CARL E. NASH
The writer is a senior scientist with the Center for Auto Safety and is a retired senior executive of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.