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Remembering important legislation on auto and highway safety

In recent years, President Lyndon Johnson has been remembered as a champion of the civil rights movement. But for all the important work Johnson did in collaboration with Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists, he also advocated for practical measures that would improve safety for all Americans.

On this week in 1966, President Johnson signed two major pieces of legislation: The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Highway Safety Act. Together, these two bills mandated automobile features and road upgrades that we now take for granted. They also gave the federal government control over highway and automobile safety standards.

Major industries have historically been at odds with the federal government over regulation. But even considerable lobbying by the auto industry was not enough to stop important mandates in these two bills. The NTMVSA required the following safety upgrades:

  • Installation of seat belts for all passengers in a vehicle
  • Fuel tanks that resisted rupturing
  • Steering wheels that better absorbed impact during a crash
  • Shatter-resistant windshields
  • Side-view mirrors
  • Door latches that wouldn’t easily fly open during a crash
  • More interior padding throughout the cab of a vehicle
  • Defrosters for car windshields

The Highway Safety Act improved travel safety by requiring some common-sense design upgrades to the nation’s roads, including:

  • The installation of guardrails
  • Stronger barriers to separate opposing lanes of traffic
  • Better streetlights lining roads

The federal government’s control over auto and highway safety is far from total, as evidenced by the numerous recall scandals involving nearly every major auto manufacturer. But things would arguably be a lot worse without the NTMVSA and the HSA. Hopefully, modern-day legislators will examine the success of these two important bills and ensure that regulating agencies have the power and funding they need to keep Americans safe on the road.

Source:, “President Johnson signs the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act,” Sept. 9, 2015

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