The Trump administration is hesitating to make the streets safer for all Americans. The final regulations for the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act were scheduled to go into effect today, but have been delayed for a third time. Unfortunately, delays to this critically needed safety regulation are nothing new.
Thirteen years ago, Deborah Kent Stein, a blind woman living in Illinois and a member of the National Federation of the Blind, was skeptical that any vehicle could be so quiet that she would not be able to hear it. Remember that blind people like myself use the sound of vehicles to safely navigate neighborhoods and cities. She and a friend conducted a test with a Toyota Prius, and to her surprise the vehicle was completely undetectable at low speeds. We began talking to automobile manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
NHTSA said they needed Congressional authority to address the issue, so we began talking to members of Congress. On April 9, 2008, in the 110th Congress, Congressmen Ed Towns of New York and Cliff Sterns of Florida introduced H.R. 5734, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. The bill did not pass but was reintroduced in the 111th Congress. A Senate companion bill was also introduced, S. 841, by then Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Senator Kerry’s bill was ultimately passed by unanimous consent on December 9, 2010. It was then passed by the House on December 16, 2010, and signed by the President on January 4, 2011.
In addition to the advocacy of the National Federation of the Blind, two items significantly contributed to the passage of the law. First, NHTSA issued a safety report in September of 2009 which noted that a hybrid electric vehicle was “two times more likely to be involved in a pedestrian crash” than a comparable internal combustion engine vehicle. Second, on May 18, 2010, a joint letter was sent to Senators John Rockefeller IV and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the then respective chair and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. This letter was signed by the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, as well as the leaders of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, who collectively represent twenty-five of the world’s foremost carmakers. Together, these four organizations represent the key stakeholder groups involved in the discussion of silent hybrid electric vehicles. Our collaboration on this issue illustrates tremendous understanding and harmony from both sides.
Further illuminating the problem, NHTSA published a second report in October of 2011, which concluded hybrid electric vehicles were 35 percent more likely to be involved in a pedestrian crash and 57 percent more likely to be involved in a bicycle crash than comparable internal combustion engine vehicles.
With the synergistic confluence of the safety reports from NHTSA, the voice of the advocacy community, and the automakers of the world, Congress acted on the need for regulatory action in this arena, and the law was passed.
Unfortunately, despite the push for safer streets from NHTSA with its hundreds of pages of research, despite the call of the blind to make safer travel through neighborhoods a reality, and despite the agreement of the automakers on the need for standards that would make their hybrid electric vehicles safer, the final regulations were not released until December 14, 2016. These regulations were scheduled to go into effect on February 13, 2017, a full six years after the original bill was signed into law. Now, as though that wait was not long enough, the scheduled effective date has been pushed back three times, with the most recent delay placing the effective date on June 5, 2017.
The National Federation of the Blind can attest to the good faith efforts of automobile manufacturers to make hybrid and electric vehicles safer. While this process has taken much longer than we would have liked, clearly automobile manufacturers and NHTSA have been genuine in their scientific analysis and policy making on this issue. Each day that passes adds 1,563 hybrid electric vehicles to America’s streets, a danger for all pedestrians and especially the blind.
The Trump administration can take pride that the final regulations have been thoroughly vetted by all relevant stakeholders. We urge the administration to take the final step in making our streets and roadways safer for all Americans by delaying this critical, life-saving legislation no further. Let the rule go into effect on June 5, 2017.