June 21, 1984
To the Congress of the United States:
The Highway Safety Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, both enacted in 1966, initiated a national effort to reduce traffic deaths and injuries and require annual reports on the administration of the Acts. This is the 15th year that these reports have been prepared for your review.
The report on motor vehicle safety includes the annual reporting requirement in Title I of the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972 (bumper standards). An annual report also is required by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 which amended the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act and directed the Secretary of Transportation to set, adjust and enforce motor vehicle fuel economy standards. Similar reporting requirements are contained in the Department of Energy Act of 1978 with respect to the use of advanced technology by the automobile industry. These requirements have been met in the Sixth Annual Fuel Economy Report, the highlights of which are summarized in the motor vehicle safety report.
In the Highway Safety Acts of 1973, 1976 and 1978, the Congress expressed its special interest in certain aspects of traffic safety which are addressed in the volume on highway safety.
For the first time since 1974, fatalities resulting from motor vehicle accidents showed a significant change. A total of 49,301 persons lost their lives in traffic accidents in 1981, a 3.6 percent decrease over the preceding year.
In addition, despite large increases in drivers, vehicles and traffic, the Federal standards and programs for motor vehicle and highway safety instituted since 1966 have contributed to a significant reduction in the fatality rate per 100 million miles of travel. The rate has decreased from 5.5 in the mid-60's to the present level of 3.18. This means that motorists can drive more miles today with less risk. If the 1966 fatality rate had been experienced in 1981, more than 85,000 persons would have lost their lives in traffic accidents.
Although we can be proud of these accomplishments, the number of people meeting violent deaths in traffic accidents each year remains unnecessarily high. In 1981, an average of 135 lives were lost every day. Compounding the tragedy is the fact that most of the victims were young people, killed at a time when they had the most to contribute to society and the most to gain from life.
Given the magnitude of the problem, protecting motorists and pedestrians from the kinds of dangers they face as a result of motor vehicle travel continues to be an important national priority.
The overall regulatory framework established since 1966 has clearly enhanced motor vehicle safety in this country. At a minimum, Federal motor vehicle safety standards have accelerated the introduction of needed safety improvements. However, we must take care to see that new regulations enhance traffic safety without producing unnecessary costs for consumers and manufacturers. Where the marketplace can be made to work to provide improved automobile safety, such approaches must be sought and developed. In any case, we are convinced that needed reform can be achieved without jeopardizing the safety and consumer goals and policies established by the Congress.
In the highway safety area, we will continue to work closely with the States on priorities such as safety belts and child safety seats, alcohol safety, motorcycle safety, police traffic enforcement, traffic records and emergency medical services. Highway safety grant programs will be simplified and Federal aid directed to activities that achieve verifiable results in terms of reduced deaths and injuries, and to ones that are truly national in scope.
Continued reductions in the annual traffic death toll will not be easy. Motorists today are better informed and driving in safer vehicles and on safer roads. But they are still victims of habit and of human nature. They choose not to wear a safety belt because they do not expect to be in an accident. They drink and drive because alcohol is part of our social mores. And they sometimes speed and take unnecessary chances because being in a hurry is an unfortunate fact of modern life. Changing these driving behaviors is the traditional challenge to improving traffic safety.
We will continue to pursue a variety of approaches to increasing highway safety, including widespread public education efforts and a national traffic safety commitment that involves government, industry and the public. We are convinced that significant progress can be made and that American motorists and pedestrians will ultimately enjoy a greater level of personal safety as a result.
The White House,
June 21, 1984.