Excerpt: “U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Tuesday defended her department’s decision to use voluntary guidelines instead of enforceable rules to regulate self-driving cars, saying a flexible approach was best for an emerging technology. Chao also said the Trump administration would give preference in its forthcoming infrastructure plan to projects that promise technology innovation that could improve safety or advance the deployment of autonomous vehicles…
June 22, 2107
Washington — General Motors Co. is pushing federal regulators to move to a “voluntary cooperation model” for safety oversight now that its 2014 consent agreement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over its handling of cars with a dangerous ignition switch flaw has ended.
GM was subject to a consent order it agreed to with NHTSA in May 2014 after it was revealed the company’s flawed ignition switches that prompted the recall of 2.59 million cars that year were first found to be defective years earlier.
In May 2014, GM paid what was then a record $35 million civil penalty to NHTSA and agreed to make significant safety changes….
I would very much like to stop writing about the repetitive lies told about the USA’s alleged success in cutting road deaths when, in fact, the country does very poorly in this crucial situation compared to the other developed countries of the world. But the lies continue and therefore so will my rebuttals, in order to give the American people a more accurate picture.
Let me make the vital point once more: If you, the government departments and major road safety organizations of the USA, keep peddling false propaganda telling the people of this great nation that ‘we’ are doing well in the fight against highway fatalities, when the US has in reality, long been effectively the worst-performing wealthy country in the world, with a rate of deaths over four-times worse than the leading nations, the public will believe you and say nothing when, in fact, they should be yelling at the Government to stop the unnecessary slaughter!
Some government-level people have made the excuse to me that it is simply mistakes, or ’rounding,’ or ‘simplification’ of the data, but apart from being an egregious understatement this is unacceptable. The facts are regularly being twisted far beyond the context of those words.
Here is just one illustration of how far and wide these very misleading ‘inaccuracies’ are being spread:
On June 18, 2016, David Frum, a “lifelong Conservative [who] campaigned for Ronald Reagan and wrote speeches for George W. Bush,” appeared on the BBC HardTalk television show, around the world, and repeated some of the wildly erroneous propaganda about American road safety.
As part of his argument about banning assault rifles in the USA following the Orlando shooting massacre, he said this:
“One of the great public policy successes across the developed world and in the United States has been the reduction in automobile fatalities. It’s just dramatic what’s happened over the past generation. That isn’t because we did one magic thing that one nefarious industry had been blocking. Seat belts helped, yes. true. So did better cars. So did making it more difficult for 17-year-olds to get drivers’ licences… So did the crackdown on drunk driving.”
But this one short comment is full of gaping holes. Of the ~thirty member-nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] — in other words, the world’s developed countries — the USA has the second-worst death rate and has made by far, by FAR, the least progress of any of the long-term members in reducing road deaths, over at least the last three decades and possibly much longer. Indeed currently, based on year-2015 figures and year-2016 estimated figures, the annual number of road deaths is truly rocketing back up again after the expectable slump caused by the global recession which started around 2008 — and America, rather predictably, is suffering a bigger rate of increase than in any other developed country!
If the USA could match the per capita road-death rate of the world’s two long-term, most reliably-performing road safety countries — Sweden and Britain — almost 30,000 American lives could be saved every year and a much higher number of people would be spared from serious injury.
Some U.S. professionals are pinning their hopes almost entirely on self-driving cars, but while such autonomous vehicles might eventually take away the embarrassment of the current reprehensible state of road safety standards in the USA, they are not even close to full fruition yet. (But then may come the quietly-ignored problem and dangers of criminals or terrorists hacking those vehicles!)
So when are U.S. politicians and people responsible for road safety going to stop perpetrating or silently accepting the lies and the propaganda about something that has killed more than a million Americans in just the last 25 years?
There have recently been discussions here in the U.S. how to emulate the greater successes and much greater road safety achieved by other countries — most notably the two most consistent, long-term leaders in this field, Sweden and Britain — but I have yet to see anything significant put into action as a result.
There are many good people working in different branches of U.S. highway safety and I hope that you will stand up against the tidal wave of misleading garbage that is poured over the American public. It’s time to tell the accurate truth and let the people of this wonderful nation know so that they can vote for those who will help protect their children and their grandchildren from this massive killer.
Inter alia, I hope that people in the USDOT, NHTSA, FHWA, NTSB, GHSA, State Governments, DMVs & RMVs, NSC, DSAA, ADTSEA and others will take this message to heart and will stand in the way of the liars, propagandists, and exaggerators who are hiding the full extent of this very dangerous, long-term situation from the public, and are thereby letting the American people down.
- Misleading Highway Safety Info’ from the NTSB – Part 1 (Part 2 is linked)
- Officials Mislead America About Highway Safety (article from 2003)
First published n the Drive and Stay Alive website on Dec 3, 2003:
Being economical with the truth is a common political tactic and nowhere is this more the case than in the arena of US highway safety. Recent quotes – published rather ironically on Thanksgiving Day – make this deceit-by-omission very apparent.
The claim is that America, in the international rankings for road deaths in relation to distances traveled, has fallen from first place to ninth over the last thirty years. Yet this is only half the story and it gives a highly misleading insight. The figures are seemingly based on the International Road Traffic and Accident Database, administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Belgium. Yet the IRTAD actually gives two measurements by which death rates may be judged: deaths per 1 billion vehicle kilometres – a similar parameter to the figures used in the above claim – and deaths per 100,000 population.
Is there a big difference? You bet there is. And surely the key criterion must be the actual number of people who are killed, not how many miles they can successfully travel before that tragic moment occurs.
It has long been internationally acknowledged that, statistically, the safest roads on which to drive are divided highways, whatever they are called locally and whichever country they happen to be in. There is, after all, generally no oncoming traffic to worry about, no pedestrians, no bicyclists, few serious curves, and the intersections are few and far between. Crashes on such roads, relatively speaking, are therefore quite rare. If the sheer size of the USA is taken into account, the importance of this factor starts to loom. The large distances between many American cities and towns undeniably affect the total number of miles traveled, but these are journeys that are usually undertaken on safer, divided highways, so deaths-per-mile statistics reduce accordingly.
Only a few other countries have such large distances as a factor. Canada, for example, has 1.42 million kilometres of public roads and Australia has 900,000 km, but both have a much lower population and a lower death rate, per capita, than the USA. The much smaller size of many of the other countries involved has the opposite effect: the roads have a much greater density of vehicles per mile, and this is likely to increase the number of crashes. From figures given in the IRTAD, one finds, for example, that the number of passenger cars and station wagons on Britain’s roads is almost exactly the same, in proportion to the population, as is found in the USA. But Britain only has 396 thousand kilometres of roads, compared with America’s 6.354 million kilometres. When these distances are converted to miles, the result is a potential density of 104 cars per mile of available road in the UK as opposed to a mere 32 in the USA.
The other parameter used in the IRTAD tables – the deaths per 100,000 population – gives an entirely different perspective. The most recent figures available, for 2001, show that the USA had 14.8 people killed in road accidents for every 100,000 members of the population. The top two countries, Britain and Norway, each had a rate of 6.1 deaths. Indeed, Turkey is listed as having a rate of just 5.6 but given the lack of supporting data and that country’s performance in the two previous years this would appear to be spurious. Yet now, all of a sudden, the USA shows herself to be about 2½ times worse than the best-performing countries and that certainly doesn’t sound as acceptable as the difference in the quoted “deaths per 100 million miles traveled” – 1.51 in the USA vs. 1.2 in Britain – a mere 25% variation. How easy it is to sanitize tens of thousands of pointless deaths by reducing them to the lowest possible figures.
It is all just playing with math; statistics don’t register as being dead bodies and untold grief. What it really means is that Britain, with a population of 59 million, lost 3,431 people in 2002 compared with 42,815 people killed on America’s roads. The population of the USA at that time was 285 million, only 4.83 times greater than Britain’s, and 4.83 multiplied by the UK death toll is 16,571. This would suggest that – if the USA could match the fatality ratios in Britain and Norway – over 26,000 American lives could be spared annually; just a little bit different to the 12,000 hitherto suggested. And even the 12,000 is indicative of dreadful failures to correct this situation.
Of course, it is not quite that simple. Several other factors affect death rates, but from an American perspective the most saddening fact is that the countries that have a lower (i.e. more acceptable) death rate than the USA are often ones with additional dangerous factors, such as higher overall speed limits, much smaller cars (which are less protective in crash situations), and a much lower proportion of divided highways.
Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is quoted in the New York Times as saying “We’ve got the safest vehicles in the world, so when you consider where we fall in the scheme of things, we can’t blame the vehicles.”
When asked about these comments, Tim Hurd, NHTSA’s Chief of Media Relations, said “I don’t believe Dr. Runge was talking about cars manufactured in the USA as opposed to cars made in other countries. His point was that low seat belt usage and drunk driving are the things that make the difference.”
But build quality and design represent an extremely important aspect of highway safety. History shows that automakers in several other countries have constantly held the lead in vehicle safety and still do – most notably Volvo, in Sweden, and Mercedes, in Germany. Honda is hot on their heels, too, with new crash testing facilities, both in Japan and Ohio. The list of safety advantages that non-U.S. cars have over American-made cars is very long. Apart from protective engineering standards, it includes many seemingly minor yet truly important things like compulsory yellow rear indicator lights, rather than red ones that not only don’t utilize the safety benefits of contrasting colors but also take away 50 percent of brake light efficiency when in use. High-intensity, red rear fog lights are another example. In Europe they are effectively a standard fitting and are used in matched pairs so that distances may be gauged in very poor visibility, yet in the USA they are usually fitted only to European-made cars and – ludicrously – are in some states only permitted singly, rather than in pairs, so that they “cannot be confused with brake lights.” Do legislators truly not comprehend that in thick fog, falling snow or heavy road-spray it is being seen that is crucial, not whether the lights in question might be confused with brake lights? The fact is that on many fronts the USA does not manufacture the safest vehicles in the world and many more examples could be used to illustrate this.
It is fashionable, these days, for those with an engineering bias to claim that driver education plays little part in highway safety and that vehicle and road design are the most important factors, but in another recent article the American automotive journalist Eric Peters accurately identified a key problem when he wrote: “Lack of skill—not speeding—is the fountainhead of America’s traffic problems. If you disagree, then you’ve got to explain how it is that the Germans routinely drive much faster than we do, yet, miraculously, have lower overall accident and fatality rates.
“Go to the head of the class if you guessed the Germans’ luck is due to more-demanding licensing requirements and skills testing—not anything special about the Germans themselves.
“It takes a lot to get a first-time driver’s license in Germany—as much as 25-45 hours of Fahrschule instruction, on the road, in a real car—culminating in an extensive written and practical test. The cost to pay for the necessary schooling (at an approved Fahrschule) and so forth runs about $1,500-$2,000. They don’t mess around. As a result, the road competence of the average German driver is much higher than that of the average American driver.
“Almost anyone (including a 10-year-old) can pull a lever from ‘Park’ into ‘Drive’ and get a vehicle rolling—and that’s about all we demand of people [in the USA] before issuing them a valid operator’s permit. That and a quickie written test that even Forrest Gump could pass.
“If we spent more time and energy on fostering better driving—rather than licensing just about anyone who can walk unaided into a DMV office—we’d almost certainly have fewer accidents…”
The American public should ask themselves why they are only getting half of the information and being told that the situation is reasonably good when, in fact, America is faring very badly in terms of highway safety and countless thousands are dying as a direct result. Down from first place to ninth? The more telling truths are that the USA is actually in 24th place out of 28 listed countries in the IRTAD, and the US death toll is currently the equivalent of the World Trade Center massacre being repeated every twenty-five days.
# # #
Eddie Wren is a former traffic patrol police officer from the UK and a specialist in highway safety issues. He is the executive director of the NY-based “Drive and Stay Alive, Inc.”, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to reducing deaths on America’s roads, particularly among teen and twenties drivers. (As at 2003.)ENDS
Continued from: Misleading Highway Safety Info’ from the NTSB – Part 1
In a post on April 25, 2016, titled “Your Car is a Public Health Tool” on the NTSB Safety Compass blog, NTSB Vice Chairman Dr. T. Bella Dinh-Zarr wrote about the number of road deaths suffered by the USA.
Excerpts (in their original sequence)
- “…[The] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S.’s public health agency, declared Motor Vehicle Safety one of the top ten public health achievements of the 20th Century…”
- “In the last few decades of the 20th Century, motor vehicle deaths decreased from 50,000 per year to 30,000 deaths per year.”
- “With the vision of a future with no motor vehicle crashes, deaths and injuries, it’s important that we continue to improve crash prevention technologies, while also striving for advances in technologies to improve vehicle crashworthiness, especially as it relates to occupant protection.”
I must address point #2 first because frankly it makes a mockery of point #1, quote: “In the last few decades of the 20th Century, motor vehicle deaths decreased from 50,000 per year to 30,000 deaths per year.” But no they didn’t — not even remotely!
U.S. road deaths were still at 41,945 in the year 2000 and remained above 40,000 per year until 2008 (n=37,261, which equates to a staggering, 40 percent error). That is by no means a part of the “last few decades of the 20th Century!” Then, inline with the recession, the number of deaths per year did start to fall dramatically, as road travel also fell due to the financial situation. Interestingly, many official bodies in the US road safety arena at this point started claiming that their respective programs had been tremendously successful and were indubitably responsible for the significantly reduced numbers of deaths. Perhaps nobody had taught these people that recessions cause such reductions in deaths and that when the recession ended the number of deaths could be expected to rise again. And boy, has it ever!
But there is one other point to be made: At no point in this period did the annual road deaths fall as low as the “30,000” claimed in point #2, above. According to ITS/IRTAD, the lowest figure was 32,479 (2011), so this in turn represents an eight percent error. This may seem insignificant but it was a very undesirable exaggeration, it never materialized, and was certainly unscientific!
So now lets go back to the first point above, the CDC claim that “Motor-Vehicle Safety [was] A 20th Century Public Health Achievement,” and the fact that the NTSB has seen fit to promote this claim on its blog. Really, NTSB (and CDC, too)? Both of your organizations must surely be aware that since at least the 1970s the USA has fallen further and further back, behind the much greater road safety improvements made by virtually every other developed nation in the world — greater rates of improvement and in some cases death rates that are now less than one-quarter of the rate in the USA.
To illustrate America’s poor rate of progress, one can turn to the ITS/OECD/IRTAD database 2009 — Long-term Trends, “Road User fatalities” for 1980, 1990, 2000… and .” This shows that in 1980, the USA suffered 51,091 road deaths and in 2007 the number was down to 41,059 a reduction of 19.6 percent. This sounds quite good until one looks at the percentage reductions for the following countries over the same period:
- Switzerland . . . . . . . . -68.2%
- Germany . . . . . . . . . .. -67.1%
- France . . . . . . . . . . . .. -65.8%
- Austria . . . . . . . . . . . . -65.5%
- Netherlands . . . . . . .. -64.5%
- Portugal . . . . . . . . . .. -62.2%
- Luxembourg . . . . . . .. -56.1%
- Belgium . . . . . . . . . . . -55.5%
- Australia . . . . . . . . . .. -50.6%
- Great Britain . . . . . . . -50.5%
- Slovenia . . . . . . . . . . . -47.5%
- Canada . . . . . . . . . . . . -47.0%
- Sweden . . . . . . . . . . .. -44.5%
- Italy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . -44.3%
- Japan . . . . . . . . . . . . . -41.7%
- Spain . . . . . . . . . . . . . -41.4%
- Denmark . . . . . . . . . . -41.2%
- Ireland . . . . . . . . . . . . -41.1%
- Iceland . . . . . . . . . . .. -40.0%
- Norway . . . . . . . . . . . -35.6%
- Finland . . . . . . . . . . . -31.0%
- New Zealand . . . . . .. -29.3%
- Hungary . . . . . . . . . . -24.4%
- United States . . . . . . -19.6%
- Poland . . . . . . . . . . . . – 7.0%
- Korea . . . . . . . . . . . . . – 4.4%
- Czech Republic . . . . . – 3.1%
- Greece . . . . . . . . . . . . +14.6%
The countries finishing from 1st to 6th achieved more than three-times the improvement than did the USA, those from 7th to 10th more than 2.5-times more, and those from 11th to 19th did at least twice as well. Does anybody want to elaborate now about how on earth the comparatively poor performance by the USA is in any way the stated “20th Century public health achievement?” Such a claim, for such comparatively poor success, could easily be dismissed as mere propaganda.
Finally, there is no fault with the point #3, above, but it is effectively indisputable that the USA has fallen so far behind the rest of the developed world in this crucial field of road safety because the country has been far, far too introspective and has ignored all of the advances made elsewhere and how they have been achieved. Relying solely on technological advances that may still be a long way off in coming to full fruition is a weak-kneed approach. Many American lives undoubtedly can be saved by the USA immediately opening its eyes to other countries’ far greater success and emulating the methods used, without trying to re-invent the wheel and making a mess of it, as it has done — for example — in relation to America’s recent adoption and best-practice use of modern roundabouts (a failing of the FHWA)!
Inaccurate information on highway safety is a regrettably common from not only state governments but also Federal Government departments in the USA and this undoubtedly misleads the American people badly. In this article, I will discuss the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB].
In October 2003, the NTSB hosted the Public Forum on Driver Education and Training at their Washington DC facility, which I attended on behalf of the not-for-profit organization Drive & Stay Alive.
One of the speakers was Dr. Allen Robinson, the director of and professor in the Highway Safety Center at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and also the chief executive officer of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association [ADTSEA].
Astonishingly, Dr. Robinson made the following, extraordinary claim during his presentation: “The fatality rate of drivers in the United States is far better than any other country. You know, sometimes we don’t step back and look at our successes. Even though our fatality rate is much better than any other country, it’s not satisfactory to us.”
To simply say that this claim was inaccurate would in itself be wildly short of the mark. At that point in time, the USA was in dreadful 29th position out of the 30 member-nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] with a per capita road death rate over four-times higher/worse then the leading nations. It was also second-last in the deaths-by-distance-travelled rate (which America refers to as “VMT”) and not at all good in the rate of deaths relative to the number of registered motor vehicles in this country. Those are the three regular measures for road death rates.
It is hard to see how Dr. Robinson’s claim could be any further from being accurate.
Questions for speakers at this event could only be submitted in writing, on filing cards supplied by the NTSB, so I submitted a deliberately very polite question asking what metric Dr. Robinson was using for his claim about the USA rate being better than any other countries when, in fact, it was the opposite. I then watched as the cards were gathered together on a desk at the front of the auditorium and as the man sat at the desk flicked through them, one card got his attention and he summoned a colleague to see it. That card was then removed from the stack and set aside. My question was subsequently not asked. **That,** dear NTSB, is called censorship and was all the worse because my question was entirely accurate, unlike Dr. Robinson’s claim.
My next bout of astonishment occurred when the NTSB subsequently published their report of the proceedings, viz:
National Transportation Safety Board Public Forum on Driver Education and Training, October 28-29, 2003. Report of Proceedings. NTSB/RP-05/01. PB2005-917003. Notation 633A.
…and there, in the second paragraph on page 34, was Dr. Robinson’s entirely erroneous claim. I contacted the NTSB and after challenges getting past gatekeepers to speak to someone nearer the top, I asked why such an inaccurate claim had been allowed to remain in the proceedings when it was clearly so very misleading and capable of making people think that there wasn’t a problem with America’s road death rates — let alone a very serious problem — and that therefore nothing needed to be done about it. I was given the answer that the document was merely a verbatim record of proceedings and that it wasn’t the NTSB’s task to edit it.
Really? Not edited? Perhaps that would be why, at the foot of the first page of the Executive Summary, the report states: “Some of the speakers’ remarks in these proceedings have been edited.”
An online search for the above “Proceedings” document rather expectably now shows it to have been circulated and cited around the world. Ironically, one of the websites that has it on display is (was?) Dr. Robinson’s organization, ADTSEA.
As stated above, I complained about this unprofessional situation back in 2003-04 and I wouldn’t have come back to the topic now, except for the fact that recently there has been more very misleading information coming from the NTSB on exactly the same subject of road death rates.