WASHINGTON -- Deputy Administrator Heidi King is scheduled to testify at a House oversight hearing Wednesday on how NHTSA is doing regulating auto safety, and on its priorities for the coming year.
The agency's de facto chief -- President Donald Trump has not nominated a new administrator -- will be making her first public appearance on Capitol Hill since being appointed to the job four months ago.
NHTSA's work on developing rules of the road for self-driving cars, managing the recall of vehicles with defective Takata airbags and reviewing fuel mileage standards are expected to be key topics of inquiry for members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on digital commerce and consumer protection.
Last fall, the House passed the SELF DRIVE Act, which sets the framework for NHTSA to regulate testing and deployment of automated vehicles and prevent states from interfering with the setting of vehicle performance standards. Similar legislation is stalled in the Senate, where safety groups successfully have argued that it gives auto and tech companies too much freedom to deploy technology without having backup systems for human control.
NHTSA is expected this year to unveil a third round of guidelines governing autonomous vehicle development.
About 37 million vehicles are under recall for repairs to some 50 million defective airbags made by now-bankrupt Takata Corp. Millions more recalls are on tap through 2020 as more airbag inflators, which can rupture and spew deadly metal fragments into the passenger compartment, reach obsolescence. Twenty-two people worldwide have been killed, most of them in the U.S.
Several lawmakers are pressing NHTSA to identify more at-risk vehicles and help speed repairs. On recalls overall, questions remain about NHTSA's follow-through on getting automakers to provide more detailed information on recalls and improve outreach to increase repair rates.
Meanwhile, NHTSA and the EPA are in the middle of a hot-button review of fuel economy and carbon emission standards initially established under the Obama administration. Bloomberg reported over the weekend that NHTSA is considering a range of options that potentially could lower mileage standards for 2021-26 model year vehicles, or extend the compliance deadline for automakers.
Other safety issues the hearing could touch on include:
•NHTSA's progress in setting standards for vehicle-to-vehicle communication, which could help reduce accidents and congestion.
•Defending vehicles from cyber attacks.
•Updates to a program assessing safety improvements in new cars.
•Big-data analysis of crash incidents and crowdsourced GPS data.