NationalStacy M. Brown

Norton Leads Bipartisan Group Seeking to Protect Women Drivers

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has joined two House colleagues in filing bipartisan legislation to improve the federal government’s vehicle safety testing practices, specifically those involving the use of crash test dummies.

The Furthering Advanced and Inclusive Research for Crash Tests Act would order a comprehensive Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of current federal vehicle safety tests and how those tests affect the safety of all drivers and passengers.

Co-authored by Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the measure requires a GAO evaluation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) failure to use crash test dummies that represent the driving public, especially women, while assessing vehicle safety through its 5-star safety rating program.

Norton provided statistics to show that current tests fail to use crash test dummies representing women, especially in the driver’s seat, even though research suggests that women have a higher likelihood of being killed or significantly injured in a car crash.

“Alarmingly, 8,500 women were killed in car crashes in the U.S. in 2018, with 61% of the women being in the driver’s seat,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

The total number of traffic crashes in the District of Columbia have risen steadily since 2013 with the highest number of crashes occurring in 2016 at 26,525, after which the total number of crashes remained relatively steady, according to the most recent D.C. Traffic Safety Report.

Between 2015 and 2019, the most significant number of roadway users killed were pedestrians (55, or 39.6%), followed closely by automobile occupants (50, or 36%). During the same time, motorcyclists represented 17.3% of all traffic fatalities with 24 deaths and bicyclists represented 6.5% with 9 deaths.

There were no reported commercial motor vehicle fatalities between 2015 and 2019.

There was one fatality in 2018 for “Other.”

For unrestrained passengers, the percentage of unrestrained female passengers involved in crashes is slightly higher than male passengers, at 45.6 and 50.2 respectively – with 4.2% unknown.

Female pedestrians (50.1%) are slightly more involved in crashes than male pedestrians (49.8%).

The bipartisan legislation would also require the GAO to compare NHTSA’s practices to other safety rating programs, such as in Europe, and evaluate options for strengthening the agency’s vehicle safety testing to reduce gender-based disparities in car crash outcomes.

The bill requires NHTSA to submit an interim report to Congress explaining what new advanced crash test dummies it is currently studying for potential use in its 5-star safety rating program.

In the Senate, companion legislation has already been filed by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).

The Peters-Fischer legislation has been included as part of the Senate Commerce Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill.

“When a vehicle has met or exceeded national safety standards- consumers should have every confidence the product has truly earned a safety seal of approval of the U.S. government,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “I was startled to learn of allegations related to the gender inequality of auto safety tests. I think of my wife, my mother, my sister-in-law—and all the women in my life who have made what they believed to be informed purchases for their family automobiles.

“I guarantee you none of them are aware of any gender disparity in the testing of the cars they purchase,” he said. “The idea that physiological differences between men and women can impact crash safety is pretty intuitive. It seems logical to me that the required safety tests should reflect current demographic information regarding gender driving patterns: meaning that the number of female drivers and the vehicles they want to drive should be used to determine how frequently female crash dummies are used in safety tests. This important legislation will modernize the tests being used and improve safety for all drivers.”

The NHTSA is failing in its mission, and it tragically costs thousands of lives every year, Castor added.

“Women are almost 75% more likely than men to die or receive a serious injury when they are involved in an automobile crash, and it’s time we modernize tests and save lives,” she said. “Millions of American women get behind the wheel of a car every day, and we must swiftly act to correct the inequalities in current tests and improve standards, so that female drivers are as safe as their male counterparts. This bill is a good first step to ensuring women are safe in cars and holding NHTSA accountable.”

Norton asserted that women had achieved equality on the road when it comes to driving.

Still, when it comes to safety testing to keep them safe while driving, they are nowhere near achieving equality.

“Crash test standards are so antiquated that we must update these standards now, especially as more people return to their daily commute in the next few months,” Norton said.

Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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