New Surface Transportation Bill Could See Sweeping Safety Standard Reform

New Surface Transportation Bill Could See Sweeping Safety Standard ReformThe U.S. Senate Commerce Committee introduced a bipartisan bill in June to invest $78 billion in transportation infrastructure over the next five years. As a general rule, the intricacies of proposed legislation for infrastructure spending doesn’t make for interesting conversation, not least because so many things can change before a bill becomes law. However, this particular piece of legislation is fascinating for a number of reasons.

First, the bill is a sort of sequel to a highway funding reauthorization bill passed in May. That month, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a $303.5 billion investment in roads, highways, bridges and other surface projects to keep our nation moving. This new legislation takes aim at national safety standards for the vehicles that travel on those surfaces.

The bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is a complex piece of legislation that clocks in at over 1200 pages. If you’re an avid fan of infrastructure investment and enjoy reading legal documents (or just have a lot of time to kill), you can view the full text and all the updates and amendments here. For everyone else, we’ll provide an overview. Among the many provisions, allocations and mandates are a few sections that will have major effects if they make it to the final bill.

One in particular deals with safety standards for commercial trucks. Reuters reports, “The legislation would eventually require automatic emergency braking systems for heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles and for all new motor vehicles to be equipped with crash-avoidance technologies like forward-collision warning and lane departure systems at a later date.”

Why you should care about commercial truck safety standards

That bit above about requiring emergency braking systems in heavy-duty vehicles is a piece of legislation over 25 years in the making. In 1995, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suggested that the Department of Transportation (DOT) evaluate the effectiveness of automatic braking systems in reducing large truck crashes.

Twenty years later (in 2015), a Special Investigation Report by the NTSB included heavy criticism of the DOT for a lack of progress on their evaluation of automatic braking systems. Even worse, that same year the House Rules Committee refused to make these systems mandatory in commercial trucks – despite the fact that the technology had already been widely adopted.

Now, it looks like national safety standards for commercial trucks will finally be dragged into the 21st century. This is good news all the way around. In a study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research & Prevention, automatic emergency braking was found to have prevented 83 percent of rear-end striking crashes. While that percentage did vary based on driving conditions and other factors, 83 percent is an impressive statistic.

Consider that, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “The critical precrash event for 74 percent of the large trucks in fatal crashes was another vehicle, person, animal, or object in the large truck’s lane or encroaching into it.” That means that three out of every four fatal crashes were caused by an object in front of the vehicle.

Why aren’t ignition interlocks standard already?

In that same vein, a somewhat surprising provision was recently reported by Car and Driver. According to the article, automakers would be required to install technology to prevent drunk or impaired driving on all new vehicles within three years of the bill’s passage. We call this surprising because this is a fairly forward-thinking proposal from the same group that took a quarter of a century to mandate automatic braking systems in commercial trucks.

As a matter of fact, it’s a little surprising that this technology hasn’t been adopted (or even widely suggested) already. Ignition interlock devices have been around for some time, even if they are a bit cumbersome and not exactly perfect. Admittedly, automakers might consider such technology a bit of a tough sell to the American public. But for those who oppose the idea of a mandatory safety technology that prevents drunk driving; consider the potential insurance discounts waiting for early adopters.

“Early adopter” might be a bit of a misnomer in this case, however. First, the bill doesn’t actually require ignition interlock devices in their current form. Instead, the NHTSA will need to verify the effectiveness of any given solution. For an example of what that might look like, we turn to the same article:

“…a concept car Nissan built in 2007… featured multiple technologies that could do the trick. Nissan’s concept, built from a production Fuga sedan, used a hi-sensitivity sensor in the transmission shift knob that could detect alcohol in the driver’s perspiration. Other sensors could detect alcohol in the air in the cabin, and the car itself could monitor the driver’s face for signs of impairment. It would also watch for driving behaviors typical for drunk drivers, like swerving in and out of a lane. If the car detects these sorts of signs, it could immobilize the car (if it’s stopped) and issue a ‘drunk-driving’ voice alert over the sound system. If the car is already in motion, it would tighten the seat belts to prepare for a crash.”

That technology seems futuristic, but was actually demonstrated over 15 years ago. We know that all technologies go through growing pains, and this would be no exception. Inconvenience might abound from false positives and temporary lockouts. But temporary inconvenience may outweigh the permanence of suffering catastrophic injury or losing a loved one to a drunk driver.

We look forward to seeing the benefits of increased safety standards, but there’s a long way to go before motorists will reap the rewards of these cutting edge technologies. In the meantime, there are more than 3,600 alcohol-related car wrecks and 4,700 big truck crashes every year in Oklahoma. These affect thousands of our friends and families, and often have life-altering consequences that can permanently affect quality of life and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical and other expenses.

If you or your loved one has been involved in a car or truck crash, the compassionate Tulsa attorneys at Biby Law Firm are ready to help secure the compensation to which you’re entitled. For help with your case, call us at 918-574-8458 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment today.