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Last week, Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety praised the Senate for passing the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), S.1813.  This is a two-year, $109 billion surface transportation authorization bill that has the ability to prevent crashes, save lives, reduce injuries, and save the nation billions if it passes the House and is signed into law by the President.

As an alliance of consumers, health and safety groups, and insurance companies and agents who work together to make America’s roads safer, Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety heavily supports legislation such as MAP-21.  This public safety organization has also recently been a force behind another auto safety bill known as the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Improvement Act of 2011 (MVHSIA), or Mariah’s Act.

Like MAP-21, Mariah’s Act would authorize the appropriation of funds for both highway safety programs and other safety purposes. This bill, which is awaiting a Senate floor vote, was named for an Arkansas teen killed in a text messaging crash.

Throughout the bill’s life, Advocates has been highly involved with the passage of this act that would complement MAP-21.  The group’s President, Jackie Gillan, even testified on behalf of Mariah’s Act in July of last year in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance.

In a recent telephone interview with us, Advocates Vice President Henry Jasny reiterated the importance of this legislation, explaining the following:

We think that Mariah’s Act is a very strong step forward on a number of safety fronts, both on passenger vehicles for drivers and for motor coach safety and that passing this legislation will further help advance public safety in the next decade.

In addition to significantly ramping up fines for automakers who withhold or delay reporting safety concerns about their vehicles, Advocates explains this act also includes the following safety priorities:

  • Establish grant programs to “encourage state adoption of graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws, primary enforcement seat belt and booster seat laws, alcohol-ignition interlock devices for first time offenders laws, and anti-texting laws”
  • Set NHTSA standards “to ensure the reliability and performance of vehicle electronic systems, brake override, pedal placement, and event data recorders”
  • Enhance NHTSA’s vehicle safety information database “with public access to government information about safety-related data, recalls and defects”
  • Improve current child safety standards, which includes adding rear seat belt reminders and “unattended passenger reminder systems”
  • Increase the transparency and consumer information available regarding defect investigations

For over two decades, this safety advocacy group has worked to make America’s roads safer by promoting legislation like Mariah’s Act and MAP-21.  The influential safety organization celebrated 20 years of advocacy on May 26, 2010.

The group manages to improve American auto and highway safety by encouraging both the federal and state governments to adopt “laws, policies and programs that save lives and reduce injuries.”  Jasny explains that throughout its existence, Advocates’ mission and influence has constantly grown, partly because they “never turn away a safety issue that can save lives.”  As his auto safety group has gained experience, Jasny said their reputation as an authority has spread and they have been increasingly called upon by legislative offices and subcommittees for their technical knowledge.

He also explains that some members of congress even come to Advocates about issues they’re interested in.  They may ask Advocates to supply information and statistics to committees and advise them about which safety issues are most pressing and should be included in proposed legislation.

To increase their influence, advocates pools its resources and “helps build coalitions to increase participation of a wide array of groups in public policy initiatives which advance highway and auto safety,” its website explains.  “We look for allies on particular issues,” Jasny clarified.

He went on to explain how the board of directors contributes to the success of the group, despite its varied makeup.  Jasny calls the board “unique,” as it is a combination of half insurers and half safety, health, and progressive safety groups who decide issues together.  Despite their varied reasons for shaping public policy, all board members share the goal of decreasing the number of vehicle crashes and auto deaths.

He also points out that Advocates has worked with auto manufacturers on some issues, like alcohol ignition interlock devices, and sometimes worked against them.  However, Jasny was careful to note that previous cooperation between their group and automakers does not change how aggressively they fight against them on other issues.

Among the issues Jasny said his group fought hardest to bring about was getting air bags put into all vehicles and holding back the production of bigger trucks.  Other issues this group helps drive public policy on include the following:

  • Safety Belts
  • Impaired Driving
  • Rollover
  • Child Passenger Safety
  • Motorcycle Helmets
  • Speeding
  • Teen Drivers
  • Red Light Cameras

Jasny went on to explain that “In the last 10 years, we have been pushing more and more safety technologies.”  He said that manufacturers put safety technology into top models first, but then are slow to integrate this technology into all other models.  Part of Advocates’ role in the auto safety community is helping identify life-saving safety technology earlier, and then get it into all vehicle models sooner.

However, Jasny said his group also identifies problem technology which may detract from safe driving, emphasizing his organization’s strong belief that driver distraction is a major issue today.  Although they have been trying to get the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to regulate devices in vehicles for years, only recently has the government safety agency released proposed guidelines which address distracted driving.

Jasny explains his organization approached NHTSA in the late 1990s to start addressing the emerging issue of distracted driving.  Although he believes these safety proposals are needed, he also expressed his frustration that these new guidelines are only voluntary.

He goes on to explain his organization was aware of the problems portable technologies would pose in vehicles early on, which is why they attempted to influence policy at that time.  Jasny noted that “
once it becomes common, it becomes harder to take that technology out of cars.”

He explains that when proposing legislation that limits driver freedoms, strong evidence is needed.  Based on their dedication to increased roadway safety, though, we can expect Advocates to continue supporting these proposed guidelines until they win over the public and these recommendations do make their way into law.

With the passage of MAP-21 out of the Senate last week, we may see a growing trend towards increased auto safety that Advocates has worked so hard to bring about.