Less than six months on the job, Mark Rosekind, the new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administrator, is putting enormous pressure on automakers to clean up their safety and compliance or face meaningful consequences.
U.S. lawmakers and safety experts have relentlessly criticized and belittled NHTSA in recent years for its failure to hold automakers accountable for safety defects, taking action only once the problems mushroomed into deadly crises.
The Detroit Free Press said that Mr. Rosekind “let loose a stunning display of force” last week in getting an obstinate Takata to sign a consent agreement that expanded its airbag recall to 34 million cars and trucks – making it the largest consumer product safety recall in history.
NHTSA regulators fell under attack in 2008 and 2009 for not taking aggressive action against Toyota when its sudden unintended acceleration crisis caused dozens of cars to race out of control unexpectedly, often resulting in deadly crashes.
Once the Toyota sudden-acceleration debacle died down, General Motors’ deadly ignition switch crisis emerged from a decade of inaction. In that case, NHTSA regulators had enough information in the way of consumer complaints to warrant an investigation, but it turned a blind eye to the problem until lawsuits exposed GM’s decade-long cover-up and fraud.
“I definitely think that NHTSA is getting tougher,” Michelle Krebs, senior AutoTrader.com analyst said. “They got clobbered with the Toyota recalls, and with the GM recalls for being too slow to do anything. Rosekind vowed in December that he is going to be tough and here it is.”
Mr. Rosekind also called for a July 2 hearing on Fiat Chrysler’s poor completion rate for repairing safety defects in vehicles recalled in 20 separate actions and affecting 10 million cars and trucks. Fiat-Chrysler has snubbed NHTSA’s relatively meek efforts to get it to recall 2.6 million Jeep SUVs, finally agreeing only to a much smaller recall.
“He is going to be the cop on the beat. He doesn’t care if he is popular or not,” said former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook, who is a staunch auto safety advocate. “I think he is going to get the agency back on track in terms of enforcing the law.”
Sources: The Detroit Free Press