Consumer and safety advocates nationwide are praising President Obama’s reported nomination of Chuck Hurley to serve as the next leader of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – the government agency that sets the standards for automobile roof crush strength. Actually, setting roof crush standards is not something the NHTSA has done much of since 1971 — the year it established the alarmingly weak standards that are still on the books today. Safety advocates hope that Hurley will overhaul the weak standards, which were written so many decades ago, by the auto companies and for the auto companies.
Hurley has an impressive history of improving automobile and traffic safety. He currently works for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, where he has served as its chief officer since 2005. Prior to MADD, he worked for the National Safety Council, the Insurance Institute of America, and with then-Senator Obama on strengthening Illinois’ auto safety laws.
It’s too early to tell what immediate impact Hurley’s appointment would have on the roof crush standard because it’s due go into effect on April 30 – likely before Hurley is sworn in. In 2005, The NHTSA proposed boosting the roof crush standard to 2.5 times the vehicle’s weight from the current standard of just 1.5 times the vehicle’s weight. However, that standard met delay after delay until the Bush Administration punted it to the new administration altogether.
Critics say the new standard will spare just 13-44 of the 10,000 lives lost annually in vehicle rollovers. Sufficiently strong roofs will save many lives and cost manufacturers only $70 per vehicle on average to implement.
Paired with that too-weak standard is another legacy of the old administration: pre-emption, which potentially strips consumers of their right to pursue legal action on the state level. Under pre-emption, a person injured in a vehicle whose roof complied with federal standards would have not be able to pursue legal action in their state’s court system.