McGinnis attributes 1% of all premature deaths to motor vehicle acci- dents (including accidents involving drug but not alcohol use). These deaths are not a necessary by-product of modern life. Rather, they reflect in part a series of decisions regarding the design of automobiles and transportation systems.
Motor vehicles have become considerably safer since 1966 when Congress established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to regulate motor vehicle design and oversee highway safety programs. Changes in street and highway design, greater enforcement of drunk driving laws, and public education cam- paigns against drunk driving have reduced the number of accidents. Meanwhile, mandatory changes in car design, coupled with laws requiring seat belts and child car seats, have increased safety for passengers and drivers.
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Unfortunately, automobile manufacturers have continued to oppose in- expensive improvements that could save thousands of lives yearly, such as strengthening bumpers or covering instrument panels with softer materi- als to prevent head injuries. Equally important, legislators and government regulators have continued to exempt vans, multipurpose vehicles, and light trucks—which now account for more than 50% of all noncommercial vehicle sales—from passenger car safety regulations, even though most consumers use these vehicles as family cars.