A Strange Indifference to Highway Carnage


The political rhetoric over health care this election season may leave voters confused, but they can be sure of at least this much: One of America’s more egregious public health afflictions, deaths and injuries in car crashes, is being massively ignored.This commentary also published by:
The Sacramento Bee
Industrial Safety & Hygiene News

This should be a warning sign to the American people, since political leaders and their families, like the rest of us, are not immune from firsthand encounters with highway tragedies. President Clinton’s biological father died after being ejected in a car crash in the 1940s. As a teenage driver in the 1960s, Laura Bush struck and killed a family neighbor in a crash.  President Obama’s father died in a car wreck in 1982. In 1972, Vice President (then U.S. Senator)Joseph Biden’s wife and infant child were killed in a car-truck collision. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, as a young Mormon missionary, was severely injured in a collision in France that killed another passenger. These experiences mirror those of millions of ordinary Americans, yet they have failed to prod the nation’s policy leaders into aggressive action to stem the carnage.

Despite more than 30,000 deaths and more than 2.2 million crash injuries per year, highway safety has largely fallen off the political radar screen.  Since 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson publicly confronted a hostile auto industry by demanding, and getting, new laws governing the safety of automobiles, more than two million Americans have died of crash injuries. Since then no president has taken a forceful public stand in favor of strong government action to counter the death toll.

The laws promoted by Johnson and subsequent regulations and policies have helped,  leading to safer auto designs, better roads, and drunk driving and seat belt laws – proving that good government can save lives and livelihoods. But crash injuries are still the leading cause of death to children, teenagers and young adults, and a major cause of violent death for all age groups.

Since 1981 — when the Reagan administration put coal industry lobbyist Ray Peck in charge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, attempted to revoke air bag regulations, and cut the agency staff by one-third — the agency has been increasingly captive to the industry it was formed to regulate.

In place of decisive action, the government’s severely underfunded, industry- influenced highway safety efforts are routinely reactive, accomplishing too little, too late, for too many Americans.  When the auto industry began marketing unstable, top-heavy SUVs in the 1980s, NHTSA, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, refused to adopt vehicle regulations limiting the rollover risk of such vehicles – which ended up contributing to some 10,000 deaths a year in rollover crashes. When Toyota drivers experienced  sudden unintended acceleration episodes, NHTSA lacked the resources and expertise to address the complex but foreseeable risks of sudden acceleration from sophisticated electronic controls now standard in new vehicles.

Although current Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and NHTSA Administrator David Strickland have highlighted the perils of driver distraction, car companies still are racing to add infotainment features to new models – some of them featuring video display screens on their instrument consoles – that are bound to further divert drivers’ eyes and attention from the road. The mounting safety risk from infotainment systems seems to be widely viewed as inevitable and beyond society’s ability to control. Meanwhile, Texas has adopted an 85 mph speed limit for a soon-to-open toll road, a move likely to be copied by other states, but that would be off the table if safety was a prime concern.

What underlies the widespread toleration of highway mayhem by politicians, regulators, and the public?  Political indifference has a high cost in lost  lives, livelihoods and wellness. If the commitment were there, we believe that hundreds, if not thousands, of lives could be saved by a single measure: making electronic automatic crash notification systems standard, thus reducing delays in treating seriously injured crash victims.

But for whatever reasons, this country lags far behind other advanced nations in coming to grips with the problem. According to World Health Organization estimates, per capita road deaths in many countries are well below the U.S. Yet there is no demand to draw lessons from other countries to take tough steps that would protect American motorists.

From 2008 until early this year, U.S. road deaths fell substantially – in part due to the great recession — setting the stage for further complacency. But in the first quarter of this year the deaths turned upward, doubtless signaling an increase in driving as the economy began to modestly improve. If the upward trend continues, it will be a further signal to policymakers that the U.S. needs to be doing much more to curb lethal violence on its highways.

(Ben Kelley, a former Department of Transportation official, is on the board of the nonprofit advocacy group Center for Auto Safety. Louis Lombardo is an auto safety researcher who retired from NHTSA after 27 years and now writes on the subject at www.CareForCrashVictims.com)

Dollar Debt Clock vs. Crash Death Dollar Debt Clock

Dear Care for Crash Victims community members:

Gov. Romney is campaigning with a Dollar Debt Clock named “Our National Debt”. The readout is approaching $15.7 Trillion after 235 years of accumulation – much of which is owed to institutional investors.

Source: http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/16/11732547-romney-presses-obama-on-debt-with-aid-of-prop-clock

Let’s compare that with a Crash Death Dollar Debt Clock. The U.S.A. Crash Death Clock now reads out 3,562,858 auto crash deaths after 112 years of accumulation.

Sources: https://www.careforcrashvictims.com/death-clock/Attached NHTSA Report 811346, page 27. Applying DOT current value of a statistical life of $6.2 million to the U.S.A. crash deaths = $22 Trillion. Note that this does not include any value for people who suffered serious crash injuries but survived.

Now let us imagine a president of the people concerned about people campaigning against a presidential candidate of the powerful concerned about dollars.

Imagine if NHTSA would provide the public (and the President):

* a U.S.A. Crash Death Clock. Anyone can have this one free.

** a U.S.A. Crash Death Dollar Clock.

*** a U.S.A. Crash Lives (and Dollars) Saved Clock. NHTSA has some numbers in attached NHTSA Report 811402 at p. 217. Note that these numbers grossly underestimate benefits of airbags, NCAP, serious injuries mitigated and prevented and more. But it would be a start.

Would this be too much for people to ask for of NHTSA Administrator Strickland and DOT Secretary LaHood? They have the power. And as my grandson at age 7 told me “With great power comes great responsibility.”

And as one insurer likes to ask: “What’s your policy?”

People or Money?

22nd International Conference on Safety of Vehicles – Washington, June 13-16, 2011

Dear Care for Crash Victims Community Members:

Why is this Conference important?

Since 1971, when the first ESV Conference was held, the total crash death count is now approaching 2 million Americans in the U.S.A. The number seriously injured is estimated to be approaching 10 million. The dollar costs exceed many Trillions in current dollars.

Currently, during the Great U.S. Recession, fatalities occur at the rate of about 90 per day, 400 serious injuries per day, and cost about $650 million per day in dollars (not in tears).

See http://www.nhtsa.gov/PR/NHTSA-05-11

For associated costs and consequences, click here.

For conference Info: http://www-esv.nhtsa.dot.gov/

Excellent Vision Zero article on the history of the ESV Conferences see p. 28 at http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/5abecb69#/5abecb69/1

Who to look for at the Conference

    • 1,000 leading international auto safety researchers discussing future safety technologies will be there.
    • But how many crash victims will be there?
    • How many political leaders will be there? Imagine if President Obama would address the conference and urge the scientists and engineers to do better. He could cite that in his time in office more Americans died of their crash injuries in the U.S.A. than in the entire Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars combined.
    • How many members of the media will be there? Will there be coverage commensurate with the magnitude of the problem?

This is an important opportunity for us to do more to protect the people from loss of life, disabilities, and tragic injuries.

NHTSA Neglects Deaths and Injuries of Children in Back Seats for Decades

Dear Care for Crash Victims Community Members:

“Liz and Andrew Warner of Littleton lost their 17-month-old daughter, Taylor.

It was head trauma. The seat hit her in the face and that’s what caused the brain bleed they couldn’t stop,” Liz Warner said.

Taylor was in her car seat when the Warners’ 2010 Honda Odyssey was rear ended.  The driver’s seat collapsed on impact and struck Taylor in the face. She never regained consciousness.

“That was it. We didn’t get to know her anymore,” Liz Warner said.

After the Warners buried their baby girl, they realized they were not alone. According to the Center for Auto Safety, 898 children have been killed in rear-end collisions in the past 15 years, all of them sitting in the back seat.”  See  http://kdvr.com/2016/04/28/front-seat-hidden-danger-kills-children-in-cars/

Another Opportunity to Improve Care for Crash Victims

Dear Care for Crash Victims Community Members:

NHTSA is now seeking grant applications for funding CIREN centers (currently 8). See the NHTSA announcement requesting applications at

http://www07.grants.gov/search/search.do;jsessionid=lQK5KXZCGpydxKt1kVCfz22z27FrqzFGFyWnQYTJdzYhrHTLKT1 k!361947375?oppId=49227&mode=VIEW

Ten years ago, and nearly 500,000 crash deaths and 2,500,000 serious crash injuries ago, I helped write a paper presented to the NTSB.

The authors recommended expansion of CIREN centers to all 50 States (not 8 States) as follows:

NTSB could be connected to the existing CIREN centers, and ultimately to an expanded 50-State CIREN, so that it can electronically obtain all cases as they are entered into the CIREN system. This would give NTSB an expanded real-time data collection tool in serious injury highway crashes. Thus, the NTSB could economically become more scientifically involved in medical and engineering investigations of a larger number of serious injury motor vehicle crashes each year. Such an increase would result in a level of NTSB involvement more commensurate with the magnitude of the safety problems posed to the nation by motor vehicle crashes than is possible with current NTSB resources.

As recommended recently by the National Academy of Sciences, in its Report Reducing the Burden of Injury, the need is clear for a federal re-commitment to Trauma Center/System Development in each of the 50 States to save people suffering from serious, time-critical, injuries. Whether the time-critical injuries are the result of crashes or other causes, the timely delivery of emergency care will help save lives and livelihoods. In addition, an advanced trauma care system will also result in saving the lives of people suffering from time-critical illnesses such as strokes and heart attacks and needing rapid and safe emergency medical transport and care [26]. Time is of the essence. But, it’s not just a matter of time before we all have the safety benefits of these new technologies. It’s also a matter of societal urgency that will determine how many avoidable tragedies the nation must experience before the Automatic Lifesaving System is saving lives. Building a safer America is a matter of time, money, public policy, political leadership and most importantly – peoples lives – both those lost and those saved. See http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/studies/acns/champion.htm

Once again, we can, and must, do better caring for crash victims to reduce tragedies. Click Here

110th Anniversary of First Auto Crash Death in the U.S.

September marks the 110th anniversary of the first American killed by an automobile crash. Mr. H.H. Bliss was killed in NYC in September 1899. See Nader, Unsafe at any speed, p. 295.

The continuing need for attention to this subject is written in dry (without the tears) government statistics.

    • Historically in the U.S., motor vehicle crashes have killed nearly 3.5 million people and injured more than 300 million. This is more than 3 times the number of Americans killed and 200 times the number wounded in all wars since 1776. Since 1978, when NHTSA began counting fatalities, more than 1,350,000 people have died along U.S. roads.
    • Currently, in crashes each year about 40,000 people are killed (~110/day on average), nearly 200,000 seriously injured (~500/day on average), and nearly 750,000 hospitalized (~2,000/day).
    • The costs of crash injuries incurred in the U.S., each year, are estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to NHTSA, each year the costs of crash injuries amount to about $100 Billion in economic costs and $300 Billion in comprehensive costs. DOT currently attributes costs ranging from $333,000 for a serious injury to $5,800,000 for a fatality. From 1978 through 2008, NHTSA counted 1,354,500 fatalities.

This Labor Day weekend we can expect about 500 crash fatalities. See http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/809736.PDF

Despite this record of enormous tragedy, to this date NHTSA does not count the following costs and consequences of crash injuries.

(Bankruptcies are another cost that NHTSA does not count as a consequence of the 40,000 crash deaths and 250,000 serious injuries that occur each year. NY Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, calls attention to this problem: See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/opinion/30kristof.html ” A study reported in The American Journal of Medicine this month found that 62 percent of American bankruptcies are linked to medical bills. These medical bankruptcies had increased nearly 50 percent in just six years. Astonishingly, 78 percent of these people actually had health insurance, but the gaps and inadequacies left them unprotected when they were hit by devastating bills.”

http://download.journals.elsevierhealth.com/pdfs/journals/0002-9343/PIIS0002934309004045.pdf )

For more see Vision for a Safer America

We can, and must, do better at reducing motor vehicle crash tragedies. Let us resolve to do so.

Wishes for Safer, Brighter, Holidays

As daylight hours decrease, and dangerous holidays approach, think safety & conspicuity.

A Forbes article calls attention to holiday fatalities and to the role of vision at


What can consumers do to increase their safety?

Cyclists and pedestrians:

Several thousand pedestrians are killed in crashes each year between the hours of 6 PM and 6 AM. Consumers can take actions to increase their safety through increasing personal conspicuity with reflective clothing and accessories..

See DOT Poster “Be Safe, Be Bright

Car buyers:

Thanks to safety researchers in Australia we now know that consumers can reduce their serious injury crash risk by about 10% by choosing white as the color of their vehicle. See

http://www.monash.edu.au/news/monashmemo/stories/20071031/silver-cars.html and the full Report on their research at


Car Owners: If consumers don’t have a white car, safety can be improved when vehicles are made more visible with reflective materials such as reflective tape. See


Safer & Happier Holidays!