According to Consumer Reports (CR), Heidi King, top U.S. auto industry regulator, recently departed her position, and she did so at a time when the traffic fatality rate remains stubbornly high.
King was initially nominated by President Donald Trump to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), though she was never given the green light by the Senate to run the NHTSA.
With annual traffic fatalities hovering near 40,000, safety advocates aren't certain the NHTSA is doing enough. According to CR, the federal agency launched more than 200 investigations in 1989, but only 13 in 2018. CR cites the General Motors ignition switch and Takata airbag scandals as a tipping point when the total number of investigations began to decline. Both incidents were blamed for numerous deaths and injuries.
David Friedman, vice president for advocacy at CR and former NHTSA deputy administrator, said that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) hasn't finalized or advocated for any significant lifesaving safety standards over the past two and a half years — despite figures that conclude more than 90,000 fatalities and more than 7.5 million injuries.
“It can be hard for NHTSA to get things done under the best of circumstances, so it has been really disappointing to see DOT leaders apparently shelve some of their most important tools, like new safety standards, strong enforcement, and the bully pulpit,” Friedman said.
Which regulations should federal agencies focus on?
Safety experts from CR and other agencies believe that federal agencies such as USDOT and NHTSA should be prioritizing five key regulations. These include:
- Self-driving cars: Autonomous vehicles are the wave of the future, even though it may be years before we see them fully rolled out on the auto market. With the advent of self-driving cars, stricter regulations are needed. According to Friedman, USDOT hasn't made safety regulations a priority. Several agencies are calling on federal regulators to establish minimum safety standards for autonomous vehicles before they can be fully deployed on public roads.
- Crash-test ratings: The majority of vehicles crash-tested by NHTSA have currently received star ratings of 4 or 5. These ratings, however, may not be fully accurate in terms of how well a vehicle's design can mitigate the risk of a serious injury or death. Friedman says that NHTSA's current crash-test system is outdated.
- Vehicle-to-everything communications: Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology was endorsed by NHTSA and several other safety advocates for its potential to prevent up to 600,000 crashes and save about 1,000 lives each year. Federal regulators, however, failed to implement this technology in many new vehicles.
- Child safety: Despite Congress's repeated orders to create rules regarding child safety in cars, NHTSA has been lagging behind. In order to prevent serious injuries and deaths involving child passengers, the agency should finalize a rule to improve child restraints to protect from side-impact crashes and frontal collisions.
- Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS): NHTSA and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety established an agreement with automakers in 2016 to make automatic emergency braking standard on all new vehicles by 2022. While this marks a milestone in vehicle safety, more needs to be done. CR suggests that federal agencies push for additional ADAS technologies, such as pedestrian detection and blind-spot warning.
If you've been injured in a car accident, hire a personal injury a lawyer
Let's face it, human error remains the leading factor in most crash-related deaths and injuries. It could be years before we see these desired improvements to the auto industry. In the meantime, it's the driving culture that needs to improve. That means staying attentive, sober, and alert behind the wheel, as well as maintaining a reasonable speed.
The attorneys at Clancy & Diaz, LLP have seen the seriousness of poor driving habits. We've seen lives turned upside down or lost completely. That's why we're dedicated to fighting on behalf of crash victims and holding negligent drivers accountable.
If you or a loved one was hurt in a crash, contact our law office, based in Walnut Creek, California to schedule your free case evaluation.