The revival of the federal government's motor vehicle safety/pollution/fuel efficiency missions must start with congressional hearings for updated, stronger laws, including criminal penalties for refusal by auto companies to recall defective or noncompliant vehicles; legislatively mandated safety advances; and more capacity and funding for NHTSA's tiny budget, now far less than what is spent on military bands!
With distracted driving and ever more vehicles on more crowded highways, fatalities (including pedestrian casualties) started to increase pre-COVID-19.
The media, on its part, should not be distracted by the hype around a premature autonomous vehicle and super smart highways. Every day, people are dying in the old-fashioned ways that could be prevented by long-ready, better-handling and crash-protective vehicles.
Imagine the benefits of safer vehicles with far more environmentally benign engines and adequate funding for cost-effective public investment in new forms of public transit and upgrading existing mass transit. Getting around on the ground should include many diverse forms of arriving at one's destination in a timely, safe and environmentally preferable manner.
The Claybrook report, "Safer Vehicles and Highways: 4.2 Million U.S. Lives Spared Since 1966," is very specific about what needs to be done. New technical talent is needed at NHTSA in this era of electric cars, autonomous safety assists and the computerization of motor vehicles vulnerable to hacking.
A tougher position on recalls is essential. "Automakers continue efforts to minimize expensive recall costs by delaying the recall, narrowing the scope of a recall, or denying the defect," declares the report.
Moreover, many of the safety features and performance levels in your vehicle have not been updated for years in practical, cost-effective ways long urged by the more innovative automotive suppliers. These include child safety safeguards.
It is time for the Biden people, under the new secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg, to catch up and end the soporific record of their predecessors, including that of those from the Obama administration.
The French have a saying, "The more things change the more they remain the same." That applies to the auto company executive-suite culture. In their comfortable atriums, they arrange for deniability while they press for immunity from criminal and tort laws. They still preside over obscure financing and advertising deceptions. They still dangle before buyers of their less expensive vehicles, overpriced options for long-amortized safety improvements that are standard equipment on higher-priced vehicles so as to pressure them to upgrade.
They still instruct their lobbyists to go to Congress with one message — "No, no, no" — to long-delayed improvements for motorists to reduce the casualty toll on the highway and the various economic costs associated with such stagnant corporate stubbornness.
President Joe Biden promises a new day from Trumpism. Let's see if he and his team can provide America with a New Day of Public Safety from callous corporatism on the nation's roadways.