The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been busy since it was established in the 1960s.
Thousands of people are alive today because of the safety improvements that we all enjoy. We might argue about whether all the agency's rules were needed, but there is no doubt that cars and trucks sold in the U.S. are the safest in the world.
NHTSA has regulated and legislated the automobile and the truck to such a high level of safety that the payback for the vehicle and its occupants may become limited. I think it might be helpful to change the philosophy a bit, without sacrificing safety.
I would like to see more emphasis placed on accident avoidance rather than survival in a crash. Although I am sure that airplanes are safe vehicles, trying to make a 600-mph vehicle safe in a crash is difficult at best.
The challenge in flying is to avoid accidents at all costs, simply because they are so devastating. For NHTSA, that would be a good goal.
There are many unavoidable accidents on the roads. But if the agency were to emphasize crash avoidance, it would save lives and prevent injuries and property damage.
By making highways friendly, we can cut down on crashes. If we improve road surfaces, lighting, information and access, we should see accident rates go down. And the best way to improve highway safety would be a massive campaign to get drunken drivers off the road. The elimination of impaired drivers could cut traffic fatalities by the thousands.
In Europe, drunken drivers go to jail. No ifs, ands or buts. We might fill our jails with lots of drunken drivers, but we'd save lots of innocent lives.
I'm just not sure that our society is willing to pay the price.
If we try harder outside the car-adding a lot more education before we let people drive-we could cut the death rate substantially.
If the nation supports NHTSA, we could make some real headway. It sure would save a lot of lives.
Keith Crain is chairman of Crain Communications Inc., parent company of Tire Business.