As NHTSA chief, Runge must focus on the big stuff

We wish Dr. Jeffrey Runge good luck in his new job as administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He'll need it because several key issues need immediate attention.

It's a tough job. NHTSA, a small federal agency, must reduce the awful toll on the nation's highways without crippling America's most important industry or impinging excessively on the rights and joys of American motorists.

Here's some advice for Runge: Focus on the big stuff. If you get the big stuff right, you might find less need for management of crises, such as airbags that kill and tires that peel.

For example:

  • Get in front of the driver distraction issue. Telematics are coming, and it's better to determine now how much electronic gadgetry can be tolerated in the cockpit than to try to put the genie back in the bottle later.

  • On rollover prevention: You must test for rollover propensity because Congress has ordered it but banish the existing five-star rating system for so-called static stability factor. It's useless information.

  • Planned ratings for brakes and lights might be somewhat more useful, but they aren't the best use of limited resources.

  • It's time for a thorough review of agency undertakings. It would reveal some ventures that should be abandoned in favor of the bigger responsibilities, such as making sure the advanced airbag rules are implemented properly.

  • Get the harmonization ball rolling again. Uniform safety standards around the world would help reduce the body count - and let the industry use its resources more wisely.

  • Stick with your interest in driver and occupant behavior; it's where the biggest safety gains are to be made.
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