Good News May Get in the Way of a Necessary New Law

In the wake of the massive Toyota recalls due to unintended acceleration and gasoline pedal problems, legislators have introduced a bill that seeks to protect consumers from such dangerous defects in the future.

As proposed, the bill would increase the funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), impose hefty fines on the auto industry for safety violations, and make new safety technology a requirement rather than a privilege, while giving regulators more authority when it comes to safety recalls. Consumer advocates believe such a bill is necessary to protect drivers from careless practices by big automakers, but some recently released data about traffic deaths may thwart the passage of this bill.

The US Department of Transportation released a report in September showing that 2009 had the lowest number of traffic related fatalities and injuries ever recorded. The agency cites better technology, safer roads, and more stringent laws about driving under the influence and the use of seat belts as causes for the decline. Things are getting better for American drivers, yet the agency acknowledges that 34,000 motor vehicle fatalities are still too many.

The fact remains that automakers need to be held to higher standards on the safety of the cars they produce, and when they make a mistake they should have to pay for it. Cars and trucks are part of the fabric of every-day life in Texas; people trust that their vehicles won't cause them danger because of defects such as bad accelerators, faulty brakes, fuel system fires, a propensity to rollover, or inadequate crashworthiness . If further rules are needed to keep automakers focused on the safety of their products, then Congress should pass those laws, even if driving is getting safer for other reasons.