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Who is in Charge of Vehicle and Road Safety?

June 23, 2016 Hastings and Hastings

Every year thousands of people perish as a direct result of motor vehicle crashes. According to the most recent statistics, 32,675 people died in the United States in 2014 as a direct result of a motor vehicle crash. The economic cost of these fatal crashes totaled more than $242 billion. Annual non-fatal car accidents often number in the millions. Alcohol, distractions, speeding, and other negative driver behaviors all contribute to the ever mounting total of annual accidents.

While these numbers may be startlingly high, the total number of annual fatal accidents has routinely decreased from year to year. 2014’s totals were the second lowest recorded by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration since 1975. Accident statistics are high, but it appears that overall safety is improving, which raises the question, who is in charge of vehicle and road safety? Is there one sole governing body responsible for keeping us all safe out on the road?

At Hastings & Hastings, our experienced team of attorneys and legal professionals are constantly handling accident cases while fighting for the rights of accident victims. With over 35 years of experience in the personal injury field, we have spent time interacting with many of the organizations who bear responsibility in keeping roadways and vehicles safe. Today, we will look at these organizations and institutions.

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, which is part of the larger Department of Transportation (an organization we will cover later) was founded in 1970 and holds jurisdiction over U.S. motor vehicles. The mission of NHTSA is to “save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle-related crashes.” Or, as they like to say, the NHTSA is about “people saving people.”

The current head of NHTSA is Administrator Mark R. Rosekind, who began serving his term as the administration’s 15th administrator on December 22, 2014. Dr. Rosekind was nominated to the position by President Barack Obama and approved by the United States Senate. Before taking the position, Dr. Rosekind was credited as one of the world’s foremost experts on human fatigue. He has a passion for educating about the dangers of driving while fatigued or drowsy.

One of NHTSA’s primary responsibilities is to write and enforce Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The administration also oversees regulations for fuel economy and motor vehicle theft prevention. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards regulated the design, durability, construction, and performance requirements for motor vehicles. FMVSS also regulated motor vehicle safety-related systems and components. The first regulation adopted into the FMVSS was Regulation No. 209 which stipulated the requirement for vehicles to have seat belts. The regulations are divided into three primary categories. These categories are crashworthiness, crash avoidance, and post-crash survivability.

NHTSA also creates and maintains a large database of accident and crash statistics. Their Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) has become one of the most commonly used resources for research and learning from crash statistics. FARS has become such a success that it is used by foreign and domestic researchers.

It is also the duty of the NHTSA to disseminate information regarding product recalls. Recent recalls are updated on a daily basis. If drivers believe they have a vehicle that has been recalled, they can enter their vehicle’s VIN into NHTSA’s search database to find out if it has been part of a safety recall sometime in the last 15 years.

The NHTSA’s website can be found at It contains a wealth of information touching on many aspects of vehicle safety.        The primary sections of the web site touch on driver safety, vehicle safety, research, data, and laws and regulation. It is an excellent resource for people with a mind on driver safety.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Unlike the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent, nonprofit organization. It is a scientific and educational organization whose stated mission, “to reduce the losses – death, injuries, and property damage – from crashes on the nation’s roads,” is similar in nature to NHTSA’s. It also shares this mission with the Highway Loss Data Institute who supports the mission through analyzing insurance data.

IIHS was founded in 1959 by three of the nation’s largest insurance agencies. Initially, IIHS purpose was to support the highway safety efforts of other individuals and organization. However, within a decade, it began to assume its current identity as an independent research organization. IIHS help to lead a paradigm shift. Where previously highway safety efforts were focused solely on accident prevention, IIHS believed in a more modern, scientific approach was necessary.

IIHS’ modern approach included research into the human factors involved in accidents such as inexperience, impairment, fatigue, and distraction. It also incorporates vehicle research focused on crashworthiness and crash avoidance. To these end, IIHS conducts extensive crash tests at its Vehicle Research Center. Finally, IIHS conducts research into the role that physical environments play in motor vehicle collisions.

One of the most notable results of IIHS’ extensive research is its annual list of top safety picks. IIHS spends the year determining the crashworthiness of vehicles by assigning them good, acceptable, marginal, or poor ratings on five performance tests. These tests are moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints.

IIHS also publishes its own set of accident statistic called Fatality Facts, although their reporting is based on data from NHTSA’s FARS. IIHS website, contains a wealth of information on a wide range of highway safety topics from red light running to roundabout safety.

Law Enforcement

The mission of the Arizona Department of Public Safety is, “to protect human life and property by enforcing state laws, deterring criminal activity and providing vital support to the State of Arizona and its citizens.” The Highway Patrol Division of DPS is the agency’s oldest and most storied division. It is the mission of HPD “to ensure the safe and expeditious use of the highway transportation system for the public.”

HPD is one of the primary law enforcement agencies in charge of vehicle and road safety. The officers of HPD patrol thousands of miles of Arizona highways to ensure that drivers are following the law and driving in a manner that is both safe and responsible. They protect drivers from other individuals who would break the law by speeding, driving recklessly, or driving while intoxicated.

It is the duty of local police officers to patrol and uphold traffic laws within individual cities and towns. They also work towards theft prevention. If a vehicle is stolen, you should immediately report the event to law enforcement officials.

Arizona DPS participates in an operation called Combined Accident Reduction Effort (CARE). CARE brings the Arizona Department of Public Safety, State Police agencies, the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, and NHTSA together in one organization dedicated to reducing the loss of human life on the highway. CARE focuses its efforts on the three most common causes of highway fatalities: speeding, impairment, and failure to use safety restraints.

Although no one likes to get a traffic ticket, the enforcement of such laws is a crucial element of the fight to keep our roads as safe as possible.

Personal Responsibility

When it comes down to it, organizations like NHTSA, IIHS, and Arizona DPS can perform research, create safety regulations, enforce laws, and push forward vehicle safety, but the most powerful agent in charge of vehicle and road safety is YOU.

Drive safely. Be courteous on the road. Avoid speeding, driving while intoxicated and driving while overly fatigued. When purchasing a new vehicle, spend time researching safety ratings.

As always, if you are involved in an accident of any kind, you should seek out legal guidance as soon as possible. You have rights as an accident victim. At Hastings & Hastings, we make it our duty to defend your rights and help you put your life back together.

Call (480)706-110 today to schedule your free, in-person legal consultation with one of our experience lawyers.