To the Editor:
Regarding "50 years since 'Unsafe at Any Speed'" (Keith Crain, April 27):
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Highway Safety Act. The reduction in road deaths and injuries has been substantial, but we still have more than 30,000 deaths a year and a comparable number of serious injuries in crashes. Those losses cost our society hundreds of billions each year.
As bad as some recall-related defects have been, they resulted in a relatively small proportion of motor vehicle casualties. Unfortunately, we have only a general understanding of how people are being killed and injured on our roads because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's crash investigation program has been starved of funds and our police still investigate and report on crashes about the same way they did 50 years ago.
Police accident reports rarely have photographs. Scene diagrams are still crudely drawn, and data from "black box" crash recorders are rarely downloaded. Yet the police potentially have access to the freshest, most detailed information on a crash.
We must redouble our efforts:
n First, police crash investigators must learn to use modern technologies to provide crash reports that reveal in detail why crashes occur and why people are injured in them.
n Second, lane-change monitors, proximity sensors, backup cameras and such should be standard on all new vehicles ASAP.
Vehicle structures and restraints have gotten considerably better in recent years, but there are potential improvements. We must be particularly vigilant that weight reduction to improve fuel economy does not degrade safety.
So, yes, we have made great progress, but the work is not done yet.
CARL E. NASH
The writer is a senior scientist with the Center for Auto Safety and is a retired senior executive NHTSA.