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Status Report, Vol. 40, No. 7 | August 6, 2005 Subscribe

In other highway safety news …

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Court upholds belt law

Late last year Washington's highest court upheld the state's safety belt use law. The defendant in the case, Trevor Eckblad, argued in trial court that the law was unconstitutionally vague. While that court agreed, the state Supreme Court didn't. Citing the helmet use law, which was upheld in a similar challenge, the court said the belt law puts the "ordinary citizen … on notice that there is a general obligation to wear a seat belt."

DWI policies reduce crashes

New research indicates that lowering to 0.08 percent the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at which it's illegal per se to drive resulted in a small but statistically significant 5 percent reduction in single-vehicle nighttime fatal crashes. Such crashes often are associated with alcohol-impaired driving. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and University of New South Wales compared monthly crash counts for three years before and after BAC thresholds were lowered in 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The study found an even greater effect of enacting administrative license revocation laws, which reduced single-vehicle nighttime crashes by almost 11 percent. "Effects of lowering the legal BAC to 0.08 on single-vehicle-nighttime fatal traffic crashes" by D.H. Bernat et al. is published in Accident Analysis and Prevention 36:1089-97 (2004).

Would you call yourself a bad driver?

Probably not, according to a recent Institute survey. When almost 900 licensed drivers were asked to rate their own skills, 48 percent ranked themselves better than average. Another 20 percent reported being much better-than-average drivers. Thirty percent said they were average, and only 2 percent said worse than average. None of the drivers considered themselves much worse than average.

Tire pressure monitoring rule

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a final rule requiring automakers to install monitoring systems capable of detecting when one or more of a vehicle's tires (up to all four) are 25 percent or more below the manufacturer's recommended inflation pressure or a minimum activation pressure specified in the standard. By mandating a specific pressure measurement, this rule effectively eliminates pressure warning systems that rely on antilock brake wheel speed sensors. Systems based on antilocks don't measure pressure directly but impute low pressure when one tire rotates faster than another.

The rulemaking was conducted in response to a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which held in Public Citizen v. Mineta that the Transportation, Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act requires a direct monitoring system capable of detecting when any combination of tires is significantly underinflated.

Compliance with the new rule will begin later this year. Twenty percent of light vehicles will have to comply between October 5, 2005 and August 31, 2006. Compliance goes up to 70 percent through August 31, 2007, and then 100 percent of light vehicles must comply.

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