Highway Safety Act of 1966 (Major Acts of Congress)
Excerpt from the Highway Safety Act
Each State shall have a highway safety program approved by the Secretary, designed to reduce traffic accidents and deaths, injuries, and property damage resulting therefrom. Such programs shall be in accordance with uniform standards promulgated by the Secretary.... Such uniform standards shall be promulgated by the Secretary so as to improve driver performance ... and to improve pedestrian performance. In addition such uniform standards shall include ... provisions for an effective record system of accidents ... , accident investigations ... , vehicle registration, operation, and inspection, highway design and maintenance ... , traffic control, vehicle codes and laws, surveillance of traffic for detection and correction of high or potentially high accident locations, and emergency services.
The Highway Safety Act of 1966 (P.L. 89-564, 80 Stat. 731) established a coordinated national highway safety program to reduce the death toll on the nation's roads. The act authorized states to use federal funds to develop and strengthen their highway traffic safety programs in accordance with uniform standards promulgated by the secretary of transportation.
The act was motivated primarily by growing public concern over the rising number of traffic fatalities in the United States. Between 1960 and 1965, the annual number of traffic fatalities increased by nearly thirty percent. As President Lyndon B. Johnson stated at the signing of the act on September 9, 1966, " ... we have tolerated a raging epidemic of highway death ... which has killed more of our youth than all other diseases combined. Through the Highway Safety Act, we are going to find out more about highway diseasend we aim to cure it."
During its early years, the act required the secretary of transportation to establish uniform performance standards for the state highway safety programs. To be eligible for federal funds, states were required to formulate comprehensive highway safety programs to implement the federal standards. The initial thirteen (later eighteen) standards promulgated by the secretary touched on many aspects of highway traffic safety, including driver education, driver licensing, vehicle registration, vehicle inspection, highway design and maintenance, and traffic control devices. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) jointly administered the standards, with NHTSA taking responsibility for the "driver and vehicle" standards and FHWA overseeing the "roadway" standards.
Administration during the early years focused primarily on ensuring state compliance with the uniform performance standards. By 1976, however, state highway safety programs had matured considerably, and Congress amended the act to give states more flexibility in implementation. In essence, the standards became more like guidelines, and administration of the act "shifted from enforcing standards to using the standards as a framework for problem identification, countermeasure development, and program evaluation."
The act was amended in 1987 to formally change the standards to guidelines. Another amendment stipulated that only projects belonging to one of nine National Priority Program areas (e.g., speed control, alcohol and other drug countermeasures, emergency medical services) were eligible for certain types of funding under the act. In 1998, however, this constraint was relaxed by another amendment requiring only that "States 'consider' the National Priority Program areas when developing their highway safety programs."
The Highway Safety Act of 1966 has undoubtedly improved traffic safety in the United States by providing leadership, guidance, and financial assistance to state highway safety programs. However, it is difficult to estimate with certainty the act's precise impact. Although between 1966 and 2001 traffic fatalities and the fatality rate (measured in fatalities per million vehicle miles traveled) declined 17 percent and 71 percent, respectively, at least some of the improvement in traffic safety is due to changes in other factors that contribute to motor vehicle crashes. These include the promulgation of federal motor vehicle safety standards (see the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966), and improvements in medicine.
See also: NATIONAL EMISSIONS STANDARDS ACT; NATIONAL TRAFFIC AND MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY ACT OF 1966.
US Department of Transportation. National Highway Safety Bureau. 1969 Report on Activities Under the Highway Safety Act. Washington DC: The Bureau, 1969.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Highway Administration, US Department of Transportation. "Uniform Procedures for State Highway Safety Programs." <http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov>.
National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (Major Acts of Congress)
Excerpt from the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966
An Act to provide for a coordinated national safety program and establishment of safety standards for motor vehicles in interstate commerce to reduce accidents involving motor vehicles and to reduce the deaths and injuries occurring in such accidents.
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (P.L. 89-563, 80 Stat. 718) was enacted to reduce traffic accidents as well as the number of deaths and injuries to persons involved in traffic accidents. The act required regulators to establish federal motor vehicle safety standards to protect the public against "unreasonable risk of accidents occurring as a result of the design, construction or performance of motor vehicles" and also against "unreasonable risk of death or injury ... in the event accidents do occur."
MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY ISSUES IN THE 1960S
The act was motivated by a variety of factors. First and foremost, the public was growing increasingly concerned over the rising number of traffic fatalities on the nation's roads. Such fatalities had increased by nearly 30 percent between 1960 and 1965, and experts forecasted 100,000 such deaths annually by 1975 unless something was done to improve traffic safety. Adding fuel to the fire, Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed, published in November 1965, criticized the automobile industry for neglecting safety in favor of "power and styling" when designing new vehicles.
Nader's criticism was later substantiated during hearings held by the Senate Commerce Committee in which committee members reported "disturbing evidence of the automobile industry's chronic subordination of safe design to promotional styling, and of an overriding stress on power, acceleration, speed, and 'ride' to the relative neglect of safe performance or collision protection." Committee members remarked that new vehicle models had shown little improvement in safe design or in the incorporation of safety devices until industry had been subjected to the prod of heightened public interest and governmental concern. Members also noted that even basic safety design features such as safety door latches did not become standard equipment until ten years after their desirability and feasibility had been established. In short, Congress decided that the industry had been neglecting vehicle safety long enough, and in August 1966 both houses unanimously passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which was signed the following month by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
PROVISIONS OF THE ACT
Administration of the act evolved considerably during its first several years. Initially, the act was to be administered by the Secretary of Commerce through a newly created National Traffic Safety Agency. In October 1966, however, when the Department of Transportation was created, Congress declared that the act would be carried out by the Secretary of Transportation through a National Traffic Safety Bureau. In June 1967, Executive Order 11357 terminated the National Traffic Safety Bureau and transferred its responsibilities to the National Highway Safety Bureau (NHSB). The NHSB was originally established as a National Highway Safety Agency by the Highway Safety Act of 1966 and renamed a "Bureau" by the Department of Transportation Act. In December 1970 the Highway Safety Act of 1970 established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to succeed the NHSB in carrying out the safety programs developed under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 gave regulators until January 31, 1967 to develop federal motor vehicle safety standards that were practical, stated in objective terms, and met the need for motor vehicle safety. In addition, the initial federal standards were required to be based on existing safety standards, such as those developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers. New and revised federal standards (that did not need to be based on existing standards) were required by January 31, 1968. Violators of the standards were subject to a $1,000 civil penalty for each offense, up to a maximum of $400,000 for a related series of violations (the maximum penalty was increased to $800,000 in 1974).
Regulators issued twenty standards for passenger cars by the initial deadline, including rules requiring installation of seat belts for all occupants, impact-absorbing steering columns, padded dashboards, safety glass, and dual braking systems. In time, federal motor vehicle safety standards have expanded to cover many other aspects of motor vehicle safety, including everything from windshield wipers, lights, and rearview mirrors to door locks, head restraints, and fuel tanks. In addition, federal motor vehicle safety standards have been developed for trucks, buses, trailers, and motorcycles.
AMENDMENT TO THE ACT IN 1974
In 1974 the act was amended to require manufacturers to remedy safety-related defects at no cost to consumers. Prior to the 1974 amendment, the act merely empowered the Secretary of Transportation to declare that a safety-related defect existed and to require that manufacturers notify the owners of the defective vehicleshe act did not require the manufacturers to fix the defect for free. In fact, a "repair at no cost" amendment had been considered as early as 1969, but was dropped when manufacturers promised Congress that all safety-related defects would be remedied at their expense, regardless of whether legislation required it. However, the industry broke its promise in 1971 and again in 1972, and so Congress responded by formally requiring manufacturers to fix all safety-related defects at no charge to consumers. A flurry of recalls took place in the years following the amendment, and the number of cars recalled for repair between 1977 and 1980 surpassed the number of new cars sold.
Although it is reasonable to conclude that the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 has improved traffic safety, it is difficult to estimate with certainty the precise impact of the act. Traffic fatalities and the fatality rate (measured in fatalities per million vehicle miles traveled) declined 17 percent and 71 percent, respectively, between 1967 and 2001. Undoubtedly, at least some of this improvement in traffic safety is due to the motor vehicle safety standards promulgated under the act. However, it is impossible to isolate the impact of these motor vehicle safety standards from the effects of changes in the myriad other factors that contribute to motor vehicle crashes, including changes in state laws governing speed limits, driver education, driver licensing, seat belt usage, drunk driving, and vehicle inspection as well as overall improvements in emergency response, medicine, highway design, and traffic control techniques.
See also: HIGHWAY SAFETY ACT OF 1966.
Graham, John D., ed. Preventing Automobile Injury: New Findings from Evaluation Research. Dover: Auburn House Publishing Company, 1988.
Mashaw, Jerry L., and David L. Harfst. The Struggle for Auto Safety. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
Nader, Ralph. Unsafe at Any Speed. New York: Grossman Publishing, 1965.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966: Legislative History. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1985.