Faced with record numbers of automotive recalls and harsh criticism for failing to adequately police the auto industry, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking Congress for the funds to increase its budget and staff. NHTSA seeks a total of $908 million in fiscal year 2016 – an increase of $58 million over last year’s budget.
The increase would allow the agency to hire an additional 59 full-time employees, all of whom would be assigned to its Office of Defect. The new staff would include 22 engineers and additional investigators, statisticians, and other staff to improve the agency’s ability to detect and analyze defects affecting auto safety.
Currently there are just 28 full-time workers in the office dealing with a growing number of recalls, including a recent expansion of Takata’s airbag inflator recall, which encompasses about 34 million U.S. vehicles. NHTSA head Mark Rosekind has said the agency is under pressure to make the highways safer but that it won’t be able to meet everyone’s expectations unless Congress gives it the money to handle the increasing workload.
NHTSA’s annual budget of $850 million hasn’t increased in nearly a decade. Earlier last year a House subcommittee approved a transportation budget that did not include the extra funds NHTSA needs, but the budget has yet to be finalized. Mr. Rosekind also said that NHTSA’s state of affairs was worse than he realized before he took office in December 2014. Inadequate staff, for instance, has meant that just nine NHTSA employees had to review about 80,000 complaints, and a handful of staff were charged with screening, investigating and analyzing defect data spanning 250 million registered vehicles.
The proposed budget increase for NHTSA is part of a plan that would devote nearly $6 billion to highway safety over the next six years, most of which would be allocated to highway projects administered by the states. The Obama Administration and the Transportation Department are also pushing for $4 billion to be spent in the next four years on assisting in the development of automated, self-driving cars. Much of that money would be spent on creating the legal and regulatory framework necessary to allow driverless vehicles on the roads in all 50 states.
NHTSA fully supports the development of self-driving cars and every major car company is creating and testing pilot models. So far, the hundreds of self-driving cars Google is testing in California and Texas have been involved in about 16 accidents, but all of those crashes were the fault of other drivers. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said recently to a gathering of auto industry leaders: “Automated vehicles open up possibilities for saving lives, saving time and saving fuel.”
Sources: Automotive News; International Business Times; The Detroit News; and RightingInjustice.com
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