Pryor, Rockefeller Introduce Mariah's Act to Strengthen Highway Safety

July 29, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senators Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) today introduced legislation to improve the safety of drivers and their passengers who travel on our nation’s highways.

Mariah’s Act, also titled the “Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Improvement Act of 2011,” reauthorizes highway and vehicle safety programs under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  This agency is charged with ensuring compliance with safety standards, investigating safety defects and working with automakers on recalls.  Additionally, its highway safety mission consists of safety and research programs designed to decrease vehicle deaths and injuries by changing driver behavior regarding drunk driving, distracted driving and child seats.  Current authorization will expire on September 30, 2011.

The legislation is named after Mariah West of Rogers, Arkansas.  A day before her high school graduation in 2009, Mariah was texting while driving when she lost control of her car, clipped a bridge, flipped back into oncoming traffic and passed away five days later from her injuries.  In part, Mariah’s Act will prevent similar loss by concentrating resources to prevent distracted driving.  In 2008, more than 5,800 people died and more than half-million were hurt in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver.

“This bill is about saving lives,” said Pryor, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance.  “We’ve strengthened programs designed to stop dangerous driving behavior, and we’ve stepped up vehicle safety so that families are protected by strong safety standards and devices when an accident does occur.”

“The number of deaths that occur on our roads is obscene,” said Rockefeller, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.  “We have given the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the essential and difficult mission of reducing this number and making our roads safer.  This legislation will strengthen NHTSA and focus attention and resources on the most pressing safety problems.”  

Mariah’s Act would:

  • Reauthorize, update and consolidate highway safety programs. NHTSA programs include research within the agency as well as grants to states to conduct efforts to reduce drug and alcohol impaired driving and take other steps to improve safety.  The bill would update these programs, consolidate portions of them, and add in additional accountability measures.  It would also create new grant programs specifically targeting distracted driving and novice driver licensing.

  • Enhance Safety Authorities. Provides NHTSA with additional authorities to develop and enforce strong vehicle safety regulations, conduct motor vehicle safety research, and monitor the safety of vehicles and motor vehicle equipment imported into the country.

  • Improve Transparency and Accountability.  Following last year’s Toyota investigation, this legislation establishes new requirements on NHTSA and the auto industry to increase transparency, and provide additional information to the public and to consumers about vehicle safety and pending safety recalls.  It would also hold auto companies accountable by requiring a senior official to certify to the accuracy of certain submissions to NHTSA and provide whistleblower protections to industry employees.

  • Address Emerging Electronics and Technologies. Requires NHTSA to focus research and rulemaking efforts on electronics and other emerging technologies.

  • Prioritize Child Safety. Prioritizes child safety rulemakings at NHTSA, and requires new research into emerging child safety concerns.