Rosekind also leaned on automakers at a time when they are vulnerable on their safety records, following an unprecedented string of recalls, enforcement actions and crises brought on by deadly defects.
Thanks to this approach, Rosekind said, automatic emergency braking will become standard on nearly all cars at least two years sooner than would have been possible through formal NHTSA rule-making.
"Today can be a very important step in finding new ways, new models of working toward more safety and fewer fatalities," Rosekind said. "This is one new way, one new model."
It's a model that does not work, says Claybrook, an early critic of the voluntary auto-braking pact. In January, Claybrook joined with the Center for Auto Safety and Consumer Watchdog to file a petition calling on NHTSA to mandate automatic-braking systems formally and to "reject" industry overtures for voluntary standards such as the ones announced last week.
Such standards, the groups said, cannot be enforced by government, are crafted without public comment and are "typically the product of industry players seeking to maximize profit and marketing concerns at the expense of robust consumer protection, reflecting the lowest common denominator of industry practice."
In an email to Automotive News last week, Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety, denounced the finished pact as "inadequate, unenforceable and expensive."
"It allows auto companies to charge whatever they can get away with in an options package until 2022," he wrote, and would do more to prevent property damage than to prevent injuries and deaths.
Ditlow went further in condemning the regulators' approach: "By excluding safety advocates from the deal reached behind closed doors, NHTSA abandoned its legislative mandate and ended up with a deal that will go down as a safety sellout," he wrote, calling on Foxx's and Rosekind's successors to repudiate the deal.
Rosekind's term ends in January.
While the deal doesn't come with NHTSA's usual enforcement mechanisms, neither does it preclude the agency from initiating a formal rule-making process at some point.
The pact also builds in a role for two leading proponents of safety: the IIHS, which sets the minimum performance requirements of the auto-braking systems, and Consumer Reports, which will track automakers' progress.
"This proven technology is among the most promising safety advances we've seen since electronic stability control almost two decades ago," Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for the magazine, wrote in a statement released last week. "We look forward to working with NHTSA and IIHS to help put this plan into action and hold automakers accountable for their commitments."