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Consumer Reports: Road safety measures in infrastructure bill include important steps, missed opportunities

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the U.S. Senate considers a bipartisan infrastructure bill, the independent, nonprofit Consumer Reports says the road safety provisions in the wide-ranging legislation represent some important steps, as well as significant missed opportunities.


William Wallace, manager of safety policy for Consumer Reports, said, “The bill has some vital measures to make our roads safer, but in a number of ways, it falls short of ‘meeting the moment.’


“One of the big gains for safety is a requirement for advanced technology in every new vehicle that would passively, accurately, and effectively prevent drunk and impaired driving. This is a major step forward that could save thousands of lives every year. The bill also supports local initiatives to prevent road deaths and serious injuries, as well as make it safer for people to get around by biking or walking. 


“However, the bill does not provide enough resources for chronically-underfunded safety regulators, and the provisions for car tech to prevent crashes, protect children, and reduce driver distraction should be much stronger. While we’re pleased to see some progress for road safety, there’s a lot of work to be done beyond this bill,” Wallace said.


The infrastructure bill includes a provision strongly supported by CR to ensure that advanced technology to passively, accurately, and effectively prevent drunk and impaired driving becomes standard equipment in all new passenger motor vehicles over the next decade. Advanced technology to prevent people from drinking and driving could save more than 9,000 lives per year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety—preventing fully one-quarter of all road fatalities. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has said that ​​this provision, when enacted, “will be the most significant, lifesaving public policy in MADD’s history” and that it “will mark the beginning of the end of drunk driving.”


The bill also contains CR-backed measures to improve vehicle safety recalls, early warning reporting, and vehicle safety databases, as well as promote the installation of more advanced headlights, including adaptive driving beams. It requires a study of crash test dummies to better understand safety disparities tied to demographics, including gender, and it requires vehicles with keyless ignitions to come standard with automatic engine shutoff systems to help prevent deaths and injuries from carbon monoxide poisoning. 


Highway safety funds in the bill include a new Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program to support comprehensive, data-driven local initiatives to prevent roadway deaths and injuries. The bill would also fund targeted research, data collection, and programs to better protect vulnerable road users and make it safer for people to get around by biking or walking.


However, the infrastructure bill only provides modest, incremental increases to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s resources at a time when the agency needs a far larger infusion.


The bill takes steps to improve the safety of cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks in important ways, but it does not go far enough to prevent crashes and substantially reduce the terrible toll of 40,000 deaths and several million injuries that happen on our roads each year. The bill’s proposed measures for crash avoidance technology, reducing driver distraction, and improving the nation’s five-star safety ratings are lacking requirements recommended by CR and other safety advocates, and some of these measures are not as strong as those contained in a recent House-passed bill, the INVEST in America Act.


CR said the bill’s provisions for seat backs, hoods and bumpers, truck underride guards, and auto tech to prevent child heatstroke in cars should be strengthened, and the bill has no provisions to prevent the sale of recalled, unrepaired used cars.