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Posts Tagged ‘NHTSA’

Sometimes it takes an accident to force government agencies into doing their job. But do we really need to have an accident for each agency that needs to step up its enforcement? The government needs more oversight and enforcement powers, Public Citizen’s Energy Program Director Tyson Slocum told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz yesterday and Howard Kurtz points out in today’s WaPo. He’s right. Many government agencies have failed to predict problems that should have been pretty obvious to those in the field.

Consider:

  • The Minerals Management Service (MMS) allowed companies to drill for oil without the necessary permits. BP, the company responsible for the thousands upon thousands of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, was just one of them. Now 11 workers are dead, oil is coating ocean wildlife and tar balls are beginning to make their way to shore. Countless workers helping to clean up this mess are risking their health, as well. Where was the oversight?
  • The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MHSA) failed to enforce workers’ safety and let thousands of violations stay in limbo while companies appealed; in the meantime, employees’ safety was still being jeopardized. What did we get? An explosion in a West Virginia mine, leaving 29 dead. Massey Energy had been issued two citations that very day. Where was the enforcement?

These are just two examples of government failing to prevent a problem. As Kurtz said:

Is there a single Washington agency that was found to have done its job well in recent years? The SEC was asleep at the switch during the Bernie Madoff swindle and other financial scams (perhaps because some staffers were busy watching porn). The banking agencies let the big Wall Street firms flood the market with junk loans, shaky derivatives and other useless paper. NHTSA was horribly slow in cracking down on Toyota acceleration problems. The Mine Safety and Health Administration couldn’t enforce its own citations before the explosion that killed more than two dozen at Massey Energy’s West Virginia mine. And we all remember FEMA in New Orleans.

Let’s hope the agencies can get with the program before the next big accident happens.

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clunkerI’m floored at the pace with which the House of Representatives acted to dump more money into the Car Allowance Rebate System, or “cash-for-clunkers.”  Before it was even clear to me what was happening with the money, the House had taken $2 billion from a program for loan guarantees to support renewable energy.

Even stranger is how quiet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been on the performance of the program.  Dealers and auto manufacturers are waving estimates of transactions completed and fuel economy gains made through the program, but NHTSA has been on the sidelines, failing to use its data on the completed transactions to confirm or deny dealer claims.  (more…)

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CBS Evening News with Katie CouricThere are never enough hours in the day to get everything done, so many of us multitask by making calls while driving. But research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration  shows that dialing and driving is just as dangerous as drinking and driving. In fact, researchers found that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content.

Even more, the government has known since 2003 that drivers talking on their cell phones experience the same potentially deadly distraction whether they are using a handheld device or hands-free technology. At least five states and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring drivers to use hands-free phones, mistakenly believing those devices to be safe and encouraging drivers to use them. But the research shows that it’s the conversation itself, not the device, that diverts attention away from the road.

Why haven’t you heard this before? Because the documents from 2003 were kept under wraps by the government. That’s right—instead of protecting the safety of Americans, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sat on them for years. The only reason  they came to light: Public Citizen (representing The Center for Auto Safety) sued under the Freedom of Information Act to get them, and we won.

Since we gave the documents to The New York Times, media outlets all over the country have asked the same question: why was the information withheld? CBS Evening News with Katie Couric interviewed our attorney in charge of the case, as ABC World News with Charles Gibson covered the story too. As our attorney, Margaret Kwoka, said:

It is a travesty that NHTSA kept secret factual information that could have saved lives. Although FOIA protects an agency’s decision-making process, these documents reflect facts about safety risks that the public had every right to see.

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You’d think that because more than a third of all highway fatalities happen in rollover crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would be doing everything they could to prevent these tragic deaths. But while the last three decades have witnessed state-of-the-art upgrades in nearly every aspect of vehicle design, from ergonomic seats to fuel efficiency, the federal roof strength standard remains virtually unchanged since the early 1970s.

Watch our press conference that will demonstrate the inadequacy of NHTSA’s static test compared to footage of a test that reproduces real-world conditions via live Webcast at 12 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Sept. 9 at the Center for Auto Safety home page.

(more…)

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It looks like we’ll have to wait until October for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s new vehicle roof crush standard, after rumors of a delay have proven true.

Consumer Affairs reports this afternoon that the Department of Transportation informed Congress of the delay with hours to spare before the deadline.

Of course, a delay doesn’t signify a victory for consumer and safety advocates. But Transportation Secretary Mary Peters’ letter to the heads of several Congressional committees suggests the agency is starting to get the message about the problems with its current standard:

“Because of the number of new comments we received and the additional analyses that are required, additional time is now needed to complete the final rule. We will issue a final rule by October, 2008.”

Let’s hope the next three months are productive ones for NHTSA.

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Photo by Frank RogersRemember earlier this month when Public Citizen and other consumer advocates trekked to the Hill to tell a Senate committee that the National Highway Safety Administration’s proposed roof crush standard is woefully inadequate?

Now, reports have emerged stating NHTSA might not even make its July 1 deadline for submitting the proposal. The Detroit News, Automotive World and Consumer Affairs have reported that the agency plans to ask Congress for an extension in order complete its research and address concerns and questions among automakers and senators. (more…)

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