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Motor Vehicles Hazards Archive | Introduction | The Law and Motor Vehicle Injury
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The Law and Motor Vehicle Injury

Injuries related to the design, manufacture and use of on-road motor vehicles - automobiles, buses, trucks and motorcycles - are a severe public health problem. Each year more than 40,000 Americans die in the driving environment. Many times that number are severely injured and often permanently disabled.

The law plays a critical role in influencing progress toward reducing these human losses. Legislation, regulation and litigation are the principal legal instruments directed at control of motor vehicle hazards.

Historically, legal responses to highway deaths and injuries were directed almost exclusively at attempting to change human behavior. It was widely assumed for decades that drivers were responsible for accidents and therefore drivers were the cause of injuries resulting from those accidents. Little attention was directed at the role of motor vehicles in causing or aggravating injuries in crashes, nor did federal, state or local authority exist for regulating auto safety performance. State and local statutes and regulations addressed driver-related issues such as licensing, rules of the road and signs and signals; federal authority over driver such issues was (and still is) quite limited.

Starting in the 1930's a handful of emergency-room physicians and engineers, disturbed by the clear relationship between crash injuries and hostile auto designs, began to urge that motor vehicle manufacturers modify their products in ways that would reduce the likelihood and severity of injuries when crashes occurred. By and large their pleas for seat belts, laceration-reducing windshields, energy-absorbing interiors and other simple improvements to protect occupants in crashes were ignored by the auto industry, even though the technologies were available.

Automobile ownership and travel grew rapidly after World War II, bringing with it further increases in harm to humans in crashes. Despite mounting evidence that hostile vehicle design caused many crash injuries, the industry continued to resist demands that it make voluntary changes to reduce the carnage.

Continue reading here with The Legislative Process

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