Ohio Senator Works to Make Roads Safer

April 22, 2005

U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) recently outlined the package of six bills he introduced that would reportedly save lives by providing consumers with better safety information, requiring vehicle testing to consider the safety needs of children, and making roads safer by directing resources toward the most dangerous roads and intersections.

Stars on Cars Act – The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) regularly conducts tests measuring the safety performance of vehicles in frontal and side impact crashes, as well as rollover resistance, and assigns star ratings based on those tests. The star ratings, although available on the NHTSA Web site, are reportedly not easily accessible to car shoppers when they need the information most—on the dealership car lot. Sen. DeWine’s point of sale labeling legislation, the “Stars on Cars Act,” would take the step of adding star ratings to the other information on car pricing stickers already required by law, such as cost, fuel economy, and vehicle features.

“American families have precious cargo to consider when they are selecting a new car, and it should not require a lot of time and work to find out safety information about new vehicles,” DeWine said. “The NHTSA already conducts these tests and I want to ensure that car buyers have that information right on the stickers on the cars in the dealers’ lots.”

Safe Kids and Cars Act – Many government crash tests are typically performed on adult-sized crash test dummies, often neglecting the unique safety needs of children. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children of every age from 2 to 14, according to NHTSA. While NHTSA has made good progress in developing child-sized dummies, these dummies reportedly need to be integrated into all NHTSA testing.

Sen. DeWine’s Safe Kids and Cars Act would require NHTSA to review its testing and incorporate child dummies when child safety would benefit from the tests, and would put a new focus on tracking and prevention of “non-traffic, non-crash” accidents in and around automobiles.

Such accidents disproportionately affect infants and small children, and occur when vehicles are parked or are operated in driveways, including backover, hyperthermia, and power window entrapment. The bill would require NHTSA, for the first time, to regularly collect data on these tragic incidents and develop strategies for preventing them based on that data.

“Children should be just as safe in and around cars as adults, and vehicle testing should be representative of American families,” DeWine remarked. “Sadly, the reality is that children’s safety needs are rarely taken into account in crash tests and vehicle design far too infrequently.Children have unique safety needs—their spines works differently, seatbelts fit them differently, and they interact with buttons and door handles differently. By promoting use and development of child-sized crash dummies in safety tests and doing more to track and prevent non-traffic, non-crash injuries and deaths, NHTSA can make significant progress towards reducing the alarming number of children who die in automobile accidents each year.”

Drivers Education & Licensing Act – Sen. DeWine’s Driver Education and Licensing Improvement Act would create a new nationwide program within the Department of Transportation that would serve as a clearinghouse for drivers’ education and licensing information.

The program would create a best practices blueprint to guide states and provide them with resources necessary to transform driver education programs from their current form into courses that have a real, data-driven safety impact for novice drivers. The program will also conduct research and assist states with harmonization of new driver education programs with proven graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws.

Additionally, the bill raises the bar for states seeking to receive federal dollars as a reward for having GDL programs. Currently, states can count GDL laws towards the requirements for bonus safety funding regardless of how effective those laws are – under the DeWine legislation such laws would have to meet minimum effectiveness criteria to qualify.

Safe Intersections Act – In November 2003, Sen. DeWine first introduced the Safe Intersections Act, which would help prevent the unauthorized sale and possession of an electronic device that gives the driver of a vehicle the ability to change a traffic light from red to green at the touch of a button.

The Safe Intersections Act would penalize those who sell MIRTs (mobile infrared transmitters) to unauthorized users with a fine up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both. Those found using MIRT without authorization for its use will be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned up to six months, or both. MIRTs are used by police, fire, and rescue vehicles, but are now becoming available to the general public through a number of Internet sites like eBay.

Safe Streets and Highways Act – Working along with safety improvements proposed by the President and key transportation leaders in the Senate, Sen. DeWine’s Safe Streets and Highways Act would ensure that states receiving federal transportation safety funding take steps to systematically identify, rank according to severity, and disclose to the driving public a list of their most dangerous roads and intersections.

This data is currently available in some states like Ohio, but is not generally available to the public in the rest of the country. Additionally, the DeWine legislation would provide resources and requirements for state transportation officials to collaborate with law enforcement, engineers, local officials, and safety groups to come up with innovative solutions to dangerous intersections and long stretches of roadway.

Traffic Safety Law Enforcement Campaign Act – The bill, cosponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), would require states to conduct a combined media/law enforcement campaign aimed at reducing drunk driving fatalities.

Specifically, the law enforcement portion consists of sobriety checkpoints in the District of Columbia and in the 39 states that allow them and saturation patrols in those states that do not. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that the sobriety checkpoints proposed in the underlying bill may reduce alcohol related crashes by as much as 20 percent.

Law enforcement officials from across the United States underscored this point in a recent conference sponsored by MADD, making high visibility enforcement campaigns a top priority. More than 75 percent of the public has indicated in NHTSA polls their support for sobriety checkpoints. In fact, NHTSA has concluded that 62 percent of Americans want sobriety checkpoints to be used more often.

“Tragically, our Nation has experienced increases in alcohol-related traffic fatalities three of the past four years,” DeWine stated. “In 2003 – the last year for which full statistics are available – 17,013 Americans died in alcohol-related incidents. This bill would work through law enforcement and the media to bring these numbers down.”

A version of these bills passed the Senate in 2004 as amendments to the highway reauthorization, although that bill did not ultimately become law.

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