January 15, 1985
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 16th 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 Seventh 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 second year in a row, traffic fatalities have dropped significantly. The 43,945 fatalities recorded in 1982, while still unacceptably high and a tragedy to the Nation both in terms of lives lost and the economic consequences of the deaths, represent an 11 percent decrease from 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 1982 level of 2.76. This means that motorists can drive more miles today with less risk. If the 1966 fatality rate had been experienced in 1982, more than 87,586 persons would have lost their lives in traffic accidents.
Achieving even greater reductions in the annual traffic death toll will not be easy, but it is a challenge we readily accept and intend to actively pursue. 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 safety belts because they do not expect to be in an accident. They drive after drinking too much, 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 ingrained behaviors is the traditional and most challenging obstacle to improving traffic safety.
The answer lies in widespread public education efforts, and a continuing national traffic safety commitment that involves government, the private sector, and the individual motorist. We will also consider new regulations, but only when there is no practical alternative, and when we are certain that doing so will result in a clear and beneficial improvement in safety.
While we can be justifiably proud of the accomplishments to date, we are convinced that this approach will bring about even more progress, and that American motorists and pedestrians will ultimately enjoy a greater level of personal safety as a result.
The White House,
January 15, 1985.