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Legal Review: Backlog in Federal Safety Rules Amid US Car Crash ‘Epidemic’

The first quarter of 2021 set a record as the worst start of the year in over a decade. NHTSA reports indicate that approximately 8,730 people died in auto crashes between January and March 2021, up from 7900 fatalities reported in the same period in 2020.

These rates are relatively high, considering there were fewer cars on the roads in the period compared to the pre-pandemic era. Preliminary data from the federal highway administration indicate that Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) between January and March decreased by approximately 14.9 billion in the period representing a 2.1 percent decrease.

According to experts and players in the transport sector, some of these deaths could be preventable were it not for the backlog of federal safety rules ordered by congress that are yet to be implemented.

Federal Car Safety Regulations That Are Long Overdue

According to a report by the Associated Press, the implementation of over 13 car safety rules is long overdue. These rules include the rear seat belt regulation that requires car manufacturers to install a warning system if a rear passenger is unbuckled. It was passed by Congress in 2012 and was to be implemented by 2015.

While the effectiveness of this law has not been put to the test, proponents believe it can be effective at reducing the severity of injuries in a crash. Another road safety law would set side-impact standards for children’s car seats. This bill was due in 2014 but remains unimplemented, prompting the attorneys general of 17 states and the District of Columbia to write to President Biden urging him to fast-track these laws.

Another pending bill would require car manufacturers to maintain a ten-year record of safety defects. This law was due in 2017 but has yet to see the light of day. Other pending road safety rules include:

  • Anti-ejection protection for buses which was due in 2014
  • Standards for smart car headlights
  • Speed limiting devices for large commercial vehicles
  • Medical evaluation for sleep apnea for commercial truck drivers

What Does the Backlog in Federal Safety Rules Mean?

The actual cost of this backlog of safety regulations is felt by those who have lost loved ones in fatal vehicle collisions. David and Wendy Mills, the parents of sixteen-year-old Kailee, who died in a car crash, are well aware of this cost. According to reports, Kailee unhooked her seatbelt to take a selfie with a friend when the vehicle they were traveling in flipped, ejected her, resulting in her death.

Kailee’s parents still wonder if the outcome would have been different if the pending safety belt rule had been implemented. Kailess’s case is just one among many lives lost that could have been prevented if safety regulations had been implemented.

One of the most significant causes of this backlog is opposition by influential industry players on the basis that the laws are restrictive, outdated, and expensive to implement. These issues have also taken a backseat as the government addresses other priorities. According to Jason Lavine, the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety’s director, there is a glimmer of hope for implementing these laws, as the Biden Administration seems more interested in acting than previous administrations.

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