Through an amendment by U.S. Representative Michael C. Burgess (R-TX) to the transportation funding bill, the House voted in favor of dialing back planned budget increases for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The voting wasn’t even close. The lawmakers opted for the measure by a considerable margin, taking into account the fiscal problems the NHTSA is facing. Those planned increases of $46.3 million for 2016 and $76.7 million by 2021 have been cut by $15 million per year.
This decision comes at a time when more and more vehicles are proven faulty, with defects that go as far as to endanger the lives of their occupants and those around them. In recent years, we’ve had faulty ignition switches, cars that would accelerate on their own to wide open throttle, and airbags that turned into veritable shrapnel bombs. Yet, the U.S. House of Representatives chose to refuse the proposed spending increases for vehicle safety, which also directly affects the investigating procedures.
Legislation passed in 2000 amid a Ford Explorer SUV tire recall was supposed to boost the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s defects-investigation team, adding people and giving it direct access to manufacturers’ data. Since then, defects that weren’t discovered for years have occurred in Toyota models, GM vehicles and now across multiple vehicle lines with Takata airbags. As the number of registered cars in the U.S. rose to 248 million, NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigations shrunk to 51 employees, from 64 in 2002.
NHTSA’s budget has been about $10 million annually since 2005. Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a Washington-based group that works with the insurance industry, had this to say:
The idea of $10 million for an office that’s in charge of the safety of all these vehicles, undertaking investigations and doing the recalls, it’s just ridiculous. You look at the number of people working on this, you look at their inadequate funding, and you think to yourself, no wonder this is happening over and over again.
NHTSA has come under intense criticism recently for not taking action fast enough against the latest safety issues that have arisen, such as the Takata airbag inflators and the GM ignition switch debacle. The GM problems alone have caused no less than 124 deaths and 275 injuries. NHTSA’s approach has changed recently under its new management, with the agency becoming lots more aggressive. However, without proper funding that would allow it to hire more staff and upgrade its informational system, NHTSA will have a mountain to climb if it wants to meet the self-imposed deadline of June 2016 regarding its internal reforms.
Whether Mark Rosekind, the new administrator of NHTSA, is able to keep up the more aggressive attitude shown lately by the agency remains to be seen, but what’s clear is that there is still a lot to do, with issues coming up more often than ever. Rosekind told the Detroit News earlier this year:
We’re pretty concerned. You can’t keep talking about wanting to make things safer and more efficient. We’re going to do everything we can internally… but without certain resources we’re not going to get the level of performance that everyone expects.
Congress must adequately fund NHTSA, and its refusal to do so will cause more deaths and serous injuries to happen. Why can’t our lawmakers understand the obvious needs at NHTSA that are directly related to highway safety?
Source: Detroit News
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