I am looking forward to seeing how new Administrator Mark Rosekind reshapes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
He has spent a great deal of time at the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates transportation accidents, primarily involving aircraft. Rosekind's background raises the potential for big change.
The aircraft industry's approach to safety is quite different from that of the auto industry.
Long ago, regulators decided that aircraft safety was all about crash avoidance rather than crash survival. That is a dramatic difference between airplanes and cars.
I assume the folks regulating air safety understood that survival in airplane crashes was extremely low. Despite mechanical safety improvements in airplanes, the whole idea -- and I hasten to agree -- is to avoid crashes at all costs.
Commercial airliners have built a remarkable record of accident avoidance. It's extremely safe to fly in North America today.
On the other hand, the auto industry has sort of accepted the inevitability of crashes and spent most of its time and resources making vehicles that protect passengers in a crash.
Collision and fatality rates are much higher for U.S. automobiles than aircraft. Tight regulation and active monitoring of flights by air traffic controllers account for some of the difference.
But I find it interesting that ground-based commercial carriers such as Greyhound also have a much better safety record than private drivers. Pilots and commercial bus drivers get more training than ordinary motorists, and I can only assume their record is better because of it. It would be fascinating to see whether additional drivers' training could reduce traffic fatalities.
America's approach to automotive safety has been pretty much the same since the creation of NHTSA 45 years ago.
The industry has designed the safest vehicles in U.S. history. Perhaps we should take a hard look at improving driver education to balance the equation.
If we could lower driver error and eliminate drunken driving, we would see a marked reduction in highway fatalities almost immediately.
We lack a U.S. standard for licensing drivers. Instead, there's a hodgepodge of state rules. Penalties for infractions, including drunken driving, are as varied as licensing. That should have been fixed decades ago.
The U.S. has a uniform set of national standards for pilots to fly.
It should have one for drivers as well.