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Thursday, July 27, 2006

National Safety Summit Focuses on Auto Safety Improvements

Leading safety experts set future legislative agenda and highlight new safety technology for automobile riders

For four and one half years, the Meharry-State Farm Alliance has been pioneering research and educational efforts with the goal of increasing seat belt use among African American drivers. Recently, the alliance sponsored the National Safety Summit in Washington D.C. Bringing together federal safety officials and the nation's leading safety experts, it presented a community-based model for reducing discrepancies among diverse populations across the nation.

"The NTSB strongly endorses the efforts of the Meharry-State Farm Alliance to increase seat belt use among all Americans, and especially among minority Americans," said Mark Rosenker, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). "The fact remains, however, that crashes don't discriminate. That's why future safety technology is so important."

During the two-day event, a wide range of proposals, statistics and technological innovations created to promote the country’s automobile safety plan were unveiled:


• 18 percent of all U.S. citizens neglect to wear their seat belt.
• Auto accidents are a major cause of fatalities among African Americans.
• Auto accidents are number-one cause of death among children, teens, and young adults aged 4-34.
• African American youths have a higher rate of non-seat belt use than their white or Hispanic counterparts.
• Auto accidents are responsible for more than 42,000 deaths per year and $150 billion in expenses. Compare this number to the more than 55,000 annual fatalities on U.S. roadways in the early 1970s.
• Auto accidents cause 117 deaths per day, or the equivalent of five per hour.
• Hawaii and Washington score highest when it comes to seat belt usage, with 95 percent of each state’s motorists wearing seat belts. The lowest seat belt usage rates in the country are in Mississippi and Massachusetts, with 61 and 65 percent rates of usage respectively.
• Of other diverse populations that are less likely to wear seat belts, the leaders are overweight Americans, males, pick-up truck drivers, Hispanics, and American Indians.
• Over 36 percent of Hispanic young adults have been a passenger in a vehicle operated by a driver who had been drinking.


• Cars are being developed that automatically stop without the driver’s involvement when sensors detect a road impediment.
• Sensors are being developed to recognize an abrupt lane change into the path of an oncoming car or the shoulder of the roadway and automatically adjust the vehicle.
• Electronic stability control technology for vehicles is being tested that could possibly avert over 10,000 fatalities per year.
• Adaptive cruise control is being tested that would allow vehicles to automatically sense traffic patterns and adjust speed without a driver’s involvement.


• Seat belt laws passed in over 25 states has been statistically proven to boost seat belt usage in those states.
• Graduated Driver License (GDL) laws should be improved upon in states that have implemented them, and should be passed in those states that have not yet adopted them.
• Booster seat laws should be implemented in all states to protect children less than 8 years of age.
• In spite of widespread misconception, racial profiling is not statistically proven to have increased because of seat belt laws.
• Increased funding for seat belt educational outreach programs are crucial to forthcoming legislative endeavors.


• A Developmental/Ecological method for states to implement safety programs is advised.
• Supply more culturally sensitive and language-appropriate educational material to attract ethnic populations.
• Concentrate on community issues such as poverty, race, and ethnic makeup.
• Resolutions must be customized to fit each community’s cultural, traditional, and social values.

During the Summit, Rosenker spoke of safety advances already in place in the aviation industry that will "someday be in all cars in our country; but that will take a long time. The result will be a significant reduction in the number of ground traffic crashes every year. In the meantime, all of us need to work for comprehensive highway safety laws that will raise seat belt use, improve teen driving, ensure children are appropriately restrained, and prevent impaired driving."

The National Safety Commission recommends The Driver Education Handbook for Parents as a valuable teaching tool for parents who are concerned with their teen's driving safety and understand the value of quality instruction.

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