Mark Rosekind, the new director at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has called for the necessary resources the agency needs to do its job. Rosekind says that he knew the agency lacked adequate resources and staff to do its job properly. After a week on the job, Rosekind says he discovered the shortages are actually much worse than he believed them to be. He said that solutions include “more people and money,” as well as “better processes and innovation.” He is absolutely correct on both counts. NHTSA has been at a decided disadvantage in trying to carry out its responsibilities.
Rosekind, a human fatigue expert and former member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), spoke with reporters at the Detroit auto show last month. What he told the reporters will shock those who don’t deal with NHTSA on a regular basis. Rosekind says NHTSA got 75,000 safety complaints from the public last year, up from 45,000 in 2013. Yet he pointed out that the agency has just nine people to review the complaints and only 16 people to investigate when a problem is discovered. There were three questions asked of Rosekind to which he gave some candid answers. The Claims Journal edited this exchange for length and clarity. I will set out their edited version below:
Q: NHTSA didn’t act on General Motors’ defective ignition switches or exploding Takata air bags until after people were killed. What will you do to make sure that doesn’t happen again?
A: We’re looking at taking action in three areas: People, technology and our authority to deal with this. We’re already looking at the budget for 2016. We’re trying to make sure the Office of Defects Investigations has other things there. I don’t want to get into it, but our staff has proposed two new divisions and more money for a whole bunch of people, all focused on how to make sure we’re better at doing that job. The agency also supports raising the maximum fine for automakers that hide safety problems from $35 million to $300 million.
Q: Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says automakers have over-reacted with a record recall of more than 60 million vehicles this year. Do you think the agency has gone too far and forced automakers into unnecessary recalls?
A: We’d rather have people on the proactive end catching stuff really early than waiting too long. I think we should expect to see more recalls coming. I’d rather have quick action than waiting and finding out you made a mistake, because you cannot save those lives after they are gone. We’ll watch to make sure we don’t go too far, and we want to strike a balance.
Q: Is there a fine or court action coming against air bag maker Takata Corp. of Japan for refusing a nationwide recall of driver’s side air bags?
A: Five automakers have agreed to do the nationwide recall. It’s an open investigation. We’re going to use every tool possible for us to go after it. If we find something that deserves an appropriate penalty you can absolutely count on that coming forward. That’s data we just don’t have yet to be able to act on. I’m actually trying to figure out other tools that might be available to us (other than court action). I’m mostly concerned about the safety. The longer it takes to fix the harder it is.
Hopefully, Congress will allocate additional funds to NHTSA so that it can do its job. In addition, laws that are needed to give the regulatory agency more authority and control should be passed. We know from experience that NHTSA, as a result of being underfunded and understaffed, hasn’t been able to properly regulate the politically powerful automobile industry. Hopefully, that will change. But it’s up to Congress.
Source: Claims Journal
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