32 Members of Congress Call for Updated Vehicle Safety Ratings to Protect Pedestrians

Vehicle driving down road

Pedestrian fatalities on our roads are at a ten-year high in the United States and larger cars and trucks contribute significantly to this crisis. Now, 32 members of Congress are calling on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to update vehicle safety ratings so they take into account protections for people outside of vehicles. 

The lawmakers stated, “To achieve our shared goal of Vision Zero and reverse the alarming trend in road fatalities, NHTSA should strengthen NCAP by prioritizing pedestrian protection and driver visibility in new vehicles.”

Representatives Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) led 27 colleagues in urging NHTSA to take action, supported by 11 other pedestrian and bicyclist advocacy and transportation safety organizations, including America Walks.

“Larger cars and trucks are one reason why pedestrian fatalities have reached a ten-year high in the United States,” said Mike McGinn, Executive Director of America Walks. “Their increased weight, towering front grilles, and poor visibility from the driver’s seat make these vehicles deadlier than the smaller ones they replaced.  Larger cars and trucks are not the sole cause of the rise in pedestrian deaths, but the federal government has the direct ability to fix the known issues that make them lethal.”

What’s the context?

Last year, NHTSA took an initial step to make vehicles safer for people outside cars by seeking comments for its overhaul of the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), its five-star safety rating program that’s advertised to consumers. A number of new safety features like automatic emergency braking, hood and bumper design, and intelligent speed assistance were on the table to be included in safety ratings. By the close of the public comment period on June 8th, thousands of Americans had voiced their support for features like these and had submitted over 16,000 comments, many of which encouraged NHTSA to go even further and take on excessive vehicle size, poor visibility from the driver’s seat, and the ability to drive over the speed limit.

As NHTSA finalizes its ruling on NCAP, these 32 members of Congress want to make sure the agency is rating vehicles based on how safe they are for the people walking, biking, and rolling who share the street with them.

NHTSA has the power to protect people outside vehicles beyond just better safety ratings

Vehicle safety standards that save the lives of people outside cars shouldn’t be optional. But at the end of the day, NCAP ratings still leave the safety of pedestrians and cyclists to consumer choice.

NHTSA’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) set the bar for protecting vehicle occupants. It also has the power to establish mandatory vehicle designs that protect the lives of people outside vehicles, like smaller and safer hoods and bumpers that reduce the impact of being struck and direct visibility requirements that allow drivers to see people outside of vehicles. 

NHTSA mandates equipment like seatbelts and airbags that protect vehicle occupants through its FMVSS; it should do the same for designs and technologies that save the lives of people outside cars.

America Walks has launched a Safer Vehicles for Pedestrians Campaign, a long-term effort to raise public awareness about solutions and urge federal, state, and local governments to take action.