It is long past time for reasonable people in civilized nations to harmonize their safety and emissions rules.
Regrettably, harmonization, which is the process of eliminating differences in safety and environmental regulations worldwide, has been primarily a theory.
When regulators - either here or abroad - insist on creating proprietary standards when perfectly good rules already are in effect elsewhere, they are guilty of the same boneheaded thinking that plagued automakers for decades: The not-invented-here syndrome.
Rosalyn Millman, the new acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has a chance to be a real leader. Her predecessor, Dr. Ricardo Martinez, said he favored harmonization, but in the waning days of his tenure at NHTSA, the agency made some decisions that set back the cause.
For example, instead of adopting rules on anchors for child safety seat tethers that already are in place in Canada, NHTSA proposed new - and different - rules. And rather than consider adopting European-style side-impact crash standards, the U.S. regulators seem de termined to rewrite their own standards. There are signs of progress on smaller, less expensive items such as seat belts, brakes and tires.
The poster child for harmonization is the Ford Windstar. It was designed so that it coul d be sold in Europe, but Ford Motor Co. still had to engineer some 100 unique components at a cost of about $40 million to make the Windstar comply with European regulations.
As an economist, Millman must know how much time and mo ney the government can waste when it develops redundant standards. It also costs automakers time and money, which they pass along to consumers.
Beyond the squandered tax dollars and higher vehicle costs, consumers can be hurt in other ways when the inevitable delays in implementing sane rules allow otherwise preventable highway carnage.
Although Millman is the acting administrator, she can prove that she's not a lame duck and make a significant impact by being a real international champion of harmonization, and start by giving serious consideration to the European side-impact standards.