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Message to the Congress Transmitting Annual Reports on Highway, Traffic, and Motor Vehicle Safety Programs

October 25, 1982

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 14th 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 Fifth 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.

Despite large increases in drivers, vehicles and traffic, there has been a significant reduction in the fatality rate per 100 million miles of travel. The rate has decreased by 38 percent, from 5.5 in the mid-60's to the present level of 3.4. This means that motorists can drive more miles today with less risk. Had the rate remained at the 1966 level, nearly 280,000 more people would have been killed since then.

Although we can be proud of this accomplishment, the actual number of fatalities each year remains unnecessarily high. In 1980, 51,077 people met violent deaths in traffic accidents -- an average of 140 lives 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 contributed to motor vehicle safety in this country. Federal motor vehicle safety standards have encouraged the introduction of safety improvements. In the future, new regulations will be issued when there is no practical alternative and when we are certain that they will result in a clear and beneficial payoff. We are convinced that these reforms can be accomplished without jeopardizing the safety and consumer goals and policies that you have established.

In the highway safety area, we will continue to work closely with the States on priorities such as alcohol safety, motorcycle safety, police traffic enforcement, traffic records and emergency medical services. Highway safety grant programs will be simplified and Federal aid directed only to activities that achieve verifiable results in terms of reduced deaths and injuries, and to ones that are truly national in scope.

Reducing the annual traffic death toll will not be easy. Motorists today are better informed and are 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 and most challenging obstacle to improving traffic safety.

The answer lies in 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.

Ronald Reagan

The White House,

October 25, 1982.