The New Target For Automotive Safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is coming through a time of upheaval. With a new leader installed and several controversies increasingly in the rearview mirror, the safety agency is beginning to look ahead. The recent activity gives some clue as to the direction of the NHTSA in enforcing its mission of reducing traffic accidents and making the roads safer.

The NHTSA has already begun actively seeking greater authority to enforce its regulations and penalize those who do not comply. In 2014, the administration was more aggressive than in the past in seeking civil penalties and pursuing recalls for unsafe vehicles and vehicle parts. It is not clear if that will be a trend or was a temporary response to allegations that the NHTSA was in the back pocket of automotive companies.

If the NHTSA is successful in increasing its power to penalize companies that do not meet safety standards, it may be able to focus on technology issues. In addition to criticism of a safety body operated for the benefit of companies rather than individuals, the NHTSA has been accused of being hopelessly behind in understanding automotive technology. As we move towards the possibility of autonomous vehicles and automatic crash avoidance systems, the NHTSA will have to establish a position on the new technology. Safety standards and regulations could go a long way to making sure these devices are available and helpful in reducing car accidents.

Whatever direction the NHTSA takes, it will remain the best hope of consumers in forcing the auto industry to take safety seriously. Individuals involved in car accidents have limited power to affect auto behemoths. Even large verdicts and settlements mean very little to carmakers. Only as a group can we hope to force these companies to make safety a priority.

Source: Wards Auto, “What’s Next for NHTSA and Automotive Safety,” by Christopher H. Grigorian, 8 May 2015