As President Ronald Regan was prone to say, there you go again! That claim could certainly be thrown at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when it comes to its dealing with safety issues – it has done it again. NHTSA has stuck it to consumers and in a big way.
The agency has launched another “preemptive” strike against state personal injury suits by inserting a preemption provision in a new rule governing seat belt safety. The final rule, issued on October 9th, is known as the “designated seating position” rule. It revises the definition of “designated seating position” to determine the number of seat belts that are required in a particular vehicle. It also eliminates the exclusion of auxiliary seats from the definition so that all seating locations intended to be used while a vehicle is in motion would provide the appropriate levels of crash protection. Additionally, the new rule contains language that would specifically preempt state tort claims related to seat belt injuries.
Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, who is a former administrator of NHTSA and a good one, reports that the agency has issued safety standards with such preemption language 20 times in the past three years. Joan had this to say about NHTSA:
The fear of lawsuits is one of the greatest incentives automakers have to build stronger and safer vehicles. For NHTSA to suggest that automakers should have blanket immunity from consumer liability lawsuits means that more defective vehicles will be manufactured, fewer will be recalled, the public will have less information about injury causation and more families will needlessly lose loved ones on our roads each day.
In its latest anti-consumer attack, NHTSA has put the preemption language both in the preamble and the body of the rule. That’s a change because previously the preemptive language was only placed in the preamble to rules and NHTSA was only giving an advisory opinion. Clearly, the language in the text is contrary to Congressional intent. NHTSA – which hasn’t done a very good job of protecting consumers and has been sort of like an extension of the marketing arms of the automobile industry – should follow the mandate from Congress on the preemption issue. That would protect consumers and make vehicles safer because Congress has to give NHTSA authority to impose preemption. Thus far it hasn’t done so.
Source: Public Citizen
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