WASHINGTON - The wheels of change set in motion by the Firestone tire recall won't be stopped, not even by a switch of administrations in the nation's capital, Dr. Sue Bailey predicted.
'The clock will not be turned back,' said Bailey, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Her forecast is backed up by law and public opinion. Congress has passed and President Clinton has signed legislation that requires NHTSA to gather more data about possible vehicle and tire defects routinely and to issue a slew of new safety regulations over the next few years.
But Bailey said attitudes as well as laws have been changed because the Firestone story struck a powerful chord with the American people.
'I think Firestone has been a turning point for safety on America's highways,' she said.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. is nearing completion of a recall of 6.5 million 15-inch ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, models blamed for a rash of tread separations and rollovers, especially on Ford Explorers.
Congressional committees claimed that some of the accidents blamed on Firestone tires could have been averted if manufacturers had disclosed internal records and reported overseas product recalls and if NHTSA had used better methods of detecting defects.
Bailey's remarks came last week at the peak of uncertainty over who would be declared winner of the Nov. 7 presidential election. Bailey, appointed by President Clinton and installed at NHTSA in August, said she would like to stay at the agency.
Trained originally in osteopathic medicine but also certified as a psychiatrist, Bailey has used her medical background both in the private sector and in government.
Besides having served on medical staffs at Navy hospitals, she worked on the Clinton administration health care reform effort in 1993 and was assistant secretary of defense for health affairs before joining NHTSA.