NHTSA Admits Faulty Statistics for Autobahn

News From the Michigan Chapter of the National Motorists Association

For Immediate Release -- June 5, 1996

In an effort to stop state lawmakers from raising speed limits after the repeal of the federal speed limit law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a document claiming that the Autobahn fatality rate is six times higher than that of U.S. Interstate highways. After months of pressure and inquiries by the National Motorists Association, NHTSA head Ricardo Martinez has admitted that the autobahn statistic published in NHTSA's State Legislative Fact Sheet - Speed came largely from highways in the former East Germany rather than just the western autobahns most people associate with high-speed travel.

A report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows the fatality rate on the western autobahn has been virtually identical to the death rates on U.S. Interstates for over ten years. In a letter to NMA President James J. Baxter, Martinez claimed the error was an innocent mistake due to "inconsistencies in data collection" and would be deleted from future releases. Some activists who have been lobbying for an increase in highway speed limits point to the misleading statistics as clear evidence of deliberate misrepresentation by NHTSA.

"It's inconceivable that NHTSA could have simply confuste these numbers," claims Michigan NMA coordinator D.L "Spike" Roberson. "Thousands of people in government and the media have been purposely misinformed about the safety of autobahn travel to frustrate state efforts to raise speed limits to reasonable levels. Now, without issuing a public retraction, NHTSA wants to assure us privately that they won't lie anymore. Meanwhile, reporters and legislators duped by these fake statistics will be quoting them for years. It doesn't wash."


For more information, contact Spike Roberson, MI NMA coordinator, 70633.3223@compuserve.com. Copies of the Martinez letter to the NMA and the IIHS report on Autobahn fatalities will be faxed on request.

For information on traffic safety and speed limits nationwide, contact the National Motorists Association, nma@motorists.com, on the Web at http://www.motorists.com, or by calling 608-849-6000.

Full Text of Letter Sent

Dear Mr. Baxter:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding speed limits. I am disappointed to learn that your associate, Ms. Morrison was dissatisfied with the level of service she received from members of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Customer service is one of our highest priorities and, from the information we have received, our customer satisfaction rating is high.

NHTSA's Office of Enforcement and Emergency Services (OEES) produced the State Legislative Fact Sheet for Speed and is responsible for NHTSA's traffic law enforcement activities. Three staff members in OEES spoke with Ms. Morrison during the past several months. When interviewed regarding her inquiries, these staff members emphasized that they provided her with all requested information promptly and courteously. Our staff members hope that Ms. Morrison did not interpret disagreement with her views as unsatisfactory customer service.

In addition, Ms. Morrison previously visited OEES and held a fairly lengthy conversation with Mr. J. Michael Sheehan, Chief of the Police Traffic Services Division, on the topic of speed. During this visit, she was provided a full set of information on all of NHTSA's relevant activities.

The Autobahn data used in our publication were given to a NHTSA staff person by German transportation officials, more specifically by a member of the Bundesansalt fur StraBenwesen (BASt) during a visit to the BASt offices. The data were presented in the Legislative Fact Sheet exactly as supplied by the German government and were not a product of our manipulation. These data dealt with the entire Autobahn rather than only that portion contained in the old West Germany. I hope you find this information useful.


Ricardo Martinez, M.D.

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