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Rep. Raskin Celebrates GAO Decision to Review U.S. Vehicle Safety Design Standards


Washington, DC – Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) announced the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed to conduct a review of U.S. vehicle safety design standards and their effects on the safety of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists. GAO’s decision closely follows a letter Rep. Raskin wrote to the agency last month amidst persistently high levels of traffic injuries and fatalities across America. 

“I am thrilled that the GAO swiftly accepted my request for a review of U.S. vehicle safety design standards,” said Rep. Raskin. “When this GAO assessment is completed, it will provide us with critical recommendations to ensure that drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users have safe and equitable access to our roadways.” 

Specifically, Rep. Raskin requested GAO evaluate vehicle design as it relates to pedestrian and cyclist safety; any challenges that automakers and federal regulators face in addressing pedestrian and cyclist safety; options Congress and regulators should consider to reduce the risks of fatalities related to vehicle design; and actions taken by transportation safety regulators in other countries to reduce traffic fatalities. Rep. Raskin’s letter emphasized the need to protect cyclists and pedestrians in blind zones: areas in front of or behind a vehicle that are not directly visible from the driver’s seat.  

GAO has previously conducted research and issued recommendations to the Department of Transportation to pursue better outcomes for transportation safety.  

“Traffic fatalities in the United States have persisted at alarming levels, with the number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed annually reaching record-highs,” wrote Rep. Raskin in his original letter to GAO. “Drivers struck and killed an estimated 7,522 pedestrians and 1,105 cyclists in 2022, according to the most recent data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This deadly trend on our roadways has made the United States an appalling exception among developed countries, which have made substantial progress in advancing road safety for their citizens through robust vehicle safety standards and smart street design...” 

“While we celebrate a four percent reduction in overall motor vehicle crash fatalities in 2022, fatalities for vulnerable road users remain at horrific levels,” said Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “This public health crisis on our roadways affects every town, city, locality and state. The National Safety Council supports a Safe System Approach to roadway safety and a whole-of-government response to addressing the risks faced by vulnerable road users.  We applaud Congressman Raskin for tasking the Government Accountability Office to recommend solutions federal government leaders can implement to eliminate these preventable tragedies.”

“More than 20 pedestrians per day die on American streets. Cities are implementing Vision Zero plans, building sidewalks, and redesigning deadly streets -- but we cannot fully address the traffic safety crisis without evaluating all aspects of the transportation system,” said Corinne Kisner, Executive Director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). “Americans’ cars and SUVs have gotten bigger, heavier, and deadlier. It’s past time to take a comprehensive look at how vehicle design has changed and how the federal government–from Congress to NHTSA–can ensure that the vehicles on the road are designed for safety.”

“We applaud Congressman Raskin’s leadership on this critical safety issue and the GAO’s enthusiasm and support in quickly agreeing to study and engage on the matter. With tens of thousands of trucks on U.S. roads each day, improving truck cab design to increase driver visibility is crucial for enhancing safety outcomes, meeting organizational safety goals, and boosting driver comfort and satisfaction,” said Peter Goldwasser, Executive Director of Together for Safer Roads. “As an organization, we have focused heavily on the issue of commercial vehicle design, as we know direct / high vision vehicles have proven to significantly reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities, as evidenced by a 75% reduction in fatal crashes and a 64% reduction in severe injury crashes in London since the implementation of a direct vision standard in 2019. Given that approximately 40,000 people lose their lives on U.S. roads annually, addressing blindzones and improving driver visibility through vehicle design is essential to reversing this troubling trend and making roads safer for all.” 

“There's a crisis on our roads today: far too many people are killed when they're trying to walk or bike, and someone hits them with their vehicle. Consumer Reports supports this GAO evaluation and thanks Congressman Raskin for requesting it. Crash avoidance technology will play a key role in the safety of our roads in the future, but it's also critical to better understand how cars and trucks might be designed safer,” said William Wallace, associate director of safety for Consumer Reports. 

“Pedestrian deaths are at their highest levels since 1981, and cyclist fatalities rose to over 1,100 in 2022, nightmarish facts that deserve our full attention, addressing and advancement of answers. We appreciate Congressman Raskin’s leadership in calling for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on vehicle safety standards and thank GAO for so quickly agreeing to conduct it. We need this data to inform the development and implementation of policy solutions that protect all vulnerable road users. Going for a walk or taking a bike ride must not be a death sentence,” said Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. 

“While traffic deaths in the U.S. are decreasing overall, there are two areas where fatalities continue to increase: among Vulnerable Road Users and in crashes involving large trucks,” said Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. “People biking and walking are dying due to motor vehicle crashes at the highest numbers in over 40 years and a 2020 GAO study found that the increased size of cars is part of the problem. The same can unfortunately be said for crashes involving large trucks: the number of people biking killed in crashes with large trucks has risen 98 percent since 2009 while the number of people walking killed has increased by 106 percent. The League thanks Representative Raskin for asking the next logical set of questions: what has the U.S. Department of Transportation done to address these issues and what can and should we be doing to save the lives of people biking, walking, and using mobility devices.” 

“My 5-year-old daughter was hit and killed while riding her bicycle in a crosswalk – in a school zone – just a block away from our home. Her 40-pound body was no match for the multi-ton transit van that struck and killed her,” said Jessica Riester Hart, Families for Safe Streets National Executive Committee member. “Commercial vehicles must be designed with safety as a priority. If the vehicle had fewer blind zones and greater safety protections, the driver may have seen her or the brakes may have automatically engaged,?preventing the van from hitting and killing her. GAO's findings will help Congress and regulators improve the safety of those most vulnerable on our roadways, and we urge Congress to ensure those findings are implemented.”

“The United States is experiencing a disturbing rise in pedestrian deaths and injuries. Many are unaware that incidents occurring in driveways and parking lots are excluded from official counts, despite being caused by the same issues: growing blindzones, heavier vehicles, and distracted drivers. Documenting all pedestrian incidents accurately that occur both on and off roadways and implementing commonsense technological solutions and stricter safety standards for all new vehicles is crucial. Immediate action is needed to address this national crisis and ensure the safety of all pedestrians both on and off our roadways,” stated Janette Fennell, president of Kids and Car Safety. 

“Taller, heavier, more powerful cars and trucks have proven deadly to people walking, biking, and using mobility devices. The federal government must regulate this dangerous trend,” said Peter Gray of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. 

“It is easy to design cars and trucks to improve what drivers can see, and it is indefensible that we don’t require such design. It’s long past time for common sense safety regulations to protect people from dangerous vehicles,” said Mike McGinn, Executive Director of America Walks. 

“The Association for Safe International Road Travel strongly endorses this potentially life-saving effort to prevent needless deaths and injuries resulting from truck blind spots. We welcome this effort,” said Rochelle Sobel, President and Founder, The Association for Safe International Road Travel.  

Rep. Raskin’s letter was endorsed by a broad coalition of transportation safety advocates, including the National Safety Council, National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), Consumer Reports, League of American Bicyclists, Center for Auto Safety, America Walks, Washington Area Bicyclist Association, People For Bikes, Families for Safe Streets, Together for Safer Roads, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Association for Safe International Road Travel, and Kids and Car Safety. 

“While cars and trucks in America are getting safer and safer for people inside them, they are becoming more dangerous all the time for people outside them. We know this, and there is simply no good reason not to do something about it,” said Daniel Langenkamp, whose wife Sarah Debbink Langenkamp, a mother and U.S. diplomat, was killed in 2022 by the driver of a truck while she was riding her bike in Bethesda, Maryland. “I don't think asking our leaders to look at car design and take practical measures to make them safer is too much to ask. Especially when we are seeing historical highs of pedestrian and bicyclist road death in America. It is so heartening to hear of GAO's agreement to do this review so quickly. It is exactly the kind of response we need to address what really is a crisis on our roadways.” he added.

The letter was also supported by Rep. Raskin’s constituent Daniel Langenkamp, who devoted himself to pedestrian and cyclist safety after his wife, Sarah Debbink Langenkamp, a distinguished diplomat, was killed by the driver of a large semi-truck while she was biking home from her sons’ school. In honor of Sarah’s memory, Representatives Raskin and Earl Blumenauer introduced the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act, legislation to support?state and local government efforts to build safer infrastructure for bicycling and walking. 

You can find Congressman Raskin’s original letter to GAO here, and GAO’s response here. 

Original Article LINK

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