On December 2010 the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a rear view visibility rule for new vehicles to protect kids and the elderly. This new safety regulation is to help eliminate blind zones behind vehicles that can hide the presence of pedestrians, “especially young children and the elderly.”
In its press release DOT informs that the proposed rule was required by Congress as part of the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007 and was named for two-year old Cameron Gulbransen who was killed when his father accidentally backed over him in the family’s driveway.
The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that, on average, 292 fatalities and 18,000 injuries occur each year as a result of back-over crashes involving all vehicles. Two particularly vulnerable populations – children and the elderly – are affected most.
Now let’s compare the above to the home fire problem. U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 373,900 home structure fires per year during 2005-2009. These fires caused an annual average of
- 2,650 civilian fire deaths, and
- 12,890 civilian fire injuries
On average, seven people died in U.S. home fires every day. In 2010 85% of all structure fire deaths resulted from home fires.
Those at greatest risk are:
- Older adults – over age 65
- Children – under 5 years old
- Persons with disabilities
Where is the outrage over home fire deaths? While 100 kids die in back up incidents a year, we may lose that many in a month to home fires. Will we ever see the “kids home safety act" of Congress?
In response to the home fire death problem the life safety community - representing both public and private interests - worked to eliminate this problem taking advantage of available cost-effective technology. All model codes require fire sprinkler in new one- and two-family homes. Model codes represent minimum standards to achieve a reasonable level of safety. However, a single interest group has been able to convince policy makers to provide a tool that imposes the construction of sub-standard homes in communities. Lobbying code making bodies and legislators, it has achieved some success getting this minimum code requirement removed from adopted codes and/or statewide prohibition of the requirement.
The NHTSA estimates the new regulations will cost the auto industry between $1.9 and $2.7 billion annually. The cost per vehicle would be about $159-$203 for cars without a pre-existing navigation screen, and $53-$88 for cars with a screen. NHTSA also estimates the industry-wide expense of the measure at between $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion, acknowledging that its own cost-benefit analysis indicates that the price tag of the regulation will far outstrip the cost associated with lives saved by the law. NHTSA uses a working figure of the "comprehensive cost for a statistical life" at $6.1 million, and the costs per life saved by the backup camera legislation would likely be $11.3 million.
The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) has conducted its own cost benefit analysis using a National Institute of Safety and Technology (NIST) web tool and the $6 million DOT statistical life value to prove that there is a negative benefit achieved by the installation of home fire sprinklers. Based on this NAHB analysis and using the current economic environment as a pretext, home builder associations throughout our nation have gone on record against the home fire sprinkler requirement. Their declarations have been accepted as “gospel” by the policy makers; putting politics above proven life safety technology.
Why the difference? In my opinion, what is missing in the home fire safety debate is a multimillion dollar defective product judgment against the home building community prompted by a fire death or major injury in homes built without fire sprinklers after January 1, 2011. Remember the Ford Pinto debacle? An article in the Washington Post about vehicle safety tells us that “since the introduction of the Ford Pinto nearly four decades ago — a car synonymous with danger, destruction and executives putting profits ahead of consumer safety — amazing advancements have been made in auto safety.” Do the words “putting profits ahead of consumer safety” sound familiar? There is no other compelling reason presented by the opposition as a reason to lobby so feverishly to strike down fire sprinkler requirements.
The Ford Pinto litigation sent a strong message to the auto industry. I wonder if the “unsafe home” litigation will do the same for the homebuilding industry. In the meantime, more lives will be lost. However, I am convinced that the life safety community will soon have its own Cameron Gulbransen as the tipping point in this debacle.
I leave you with one final thought by philosopher and poet George Santayana; “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”