Americans Favor Safety

Those who are not in favor of motherhood, baseball and apple pie, please raise your hands. Nope, I'm not seeing a lot of hands go up there in cyberland. (By the way, our hidden cameras allow us to see each and every one of you 24 hours a day. You knew that, didn't you?)

Now those of you who are dead-set against auto safety, please raise your hand. Oh my, still very few hands being raised. You see what we're getting at here. The fact of the matter is just about all of us, except for some random sociopaths, are strongly in favor of driving safety. But just how strongly that feeling goes was revealed recently by a Louis Harris poll commissioned by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of consumer, health, safety, insurance and law enforcement organizations. The study is the fourth independent Harris survey gauging the American public's views on crucial highway and vehicle safety concerns, and it showed a strong desire for a number of safety-related initiatives, some of them controversial.

First, let's eyeball the problem. You might not realize this, but motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death of Americans aged one to 34. Over the past decade, highway deaths have been stuck at more than 40,000 annually, with a slight increase in 2000 versus 1999. Last year, 41,800 people were killed in highway crashes, up from 41,611 the year prior. While highway deaths in general held about steady, deaths of young drivers aged 16 to 20 years went up from 3,481 in 1999 to 3,570 in 2000, and rollover deaths of sport utility vehicle occupants rose from 1,898 in 1999 to 1,951 in 2000. This, of course, must be viewed in the context of the millions of drivers and passengers who travel on our roads and highways every day, which means your individual likelihood of being involved in a fatal accident are slim. Yet no one could call 40,000 deaths per year incidental.

So what does the American public want to do about this? According to the Harris Poll, Americans strongly favor child booster seat laws, cell phone restrictions in cars, adequate safeguards for Mexican trucks, red light camera technology and intersection safety upgrades, improved vehicle rollover standards, and other federal regulatory reforms. In other words, there is a laundry list of changes Americans would be willing to make to increase their motoring safety.

Among the survey's key findings from a cross-section of U.S. adults (18 years and older):
  • Nearly 80% of the public favors state laws requiring children between the ages of four and eight years of age to be properly restrained in a booster seat while riding in a motor vehicle. More than 500 children are killed and another 100,000 injured in this age group each year in traffic crashes.

  • Some 78% of the public wants more attention paid to improving intersection safety. And, despite heated debates across the nation, state laws to allow the use of red light cameras as a law enforcement supplement are still favored by more than a 2-to-1 majority of the public (69%).

  • A full 76% of Americans favor legislation that would restrict the use of cell phones while driving, and 83% want more attention paid to the issue of cell phone use by drivers.

  • With the U.S. border soon to be opened for unrestricted travel by Mexican trucks as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a nearly unanimous 94% of the American people oppose such access without the proper U.S. safety inspections.

  • More than 70% of the population is concerned about the dangers of rollovers in vehicles. In addition, 85% of Americans favor a federal rollover standard.

  • By large majorities, the public wants enforced restrictions placed on young drivers before and initially after they receive their licenses. There is nearly unanimous support for teenage drivers to complete at least 30 to 50 hours of practice driving while with an adult (95%). In addition, a three-to-one majority (74% to 23%) supports limiting the number of teen passengers in the car with a teen driver.
Just how these results will translate into political action remains to be seen, but let there be no doubt that Americans are in favor of safety and willing to make efforts to increase it.

A self-proclaimed safe driver, Cleveland-based Luigi Fraschini writes on a number of auto-related issues for several publications.