WASHINGTON -- The Transportation Department's Office of Inspector General said on Tuesday it would audit oversight of U.S. vehicle safety standards, noting that more than 36,000 Americans were killed in traffic accidents in 2019.
The inspector general's office said it was launching a review of NHTSA's efforts to set and enforce Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
"Given the importance to the traveling public that all new vehicles and components meet federal safety standards, we are initiating a review of NHTSA’s FMVSS process," the inspector general's office wrote.
NHTSA said in a statement it would "work with the Office of Inspector General to provide any pertinent information requested."
In March, NHTSA proposed sweeping changes to U.S. safety requirements to speed the deployment of self-driving vehicles without human controls. It proposed rewriting 11 vehicle safety standards that require traditional manual controls "by revising the requirements and test procedures to account for the removal of manually-operated driving controls."
NHTSA proposed revising rules for occupant protection, steering controls, glazing materials, door locks, seating systems, side impact protection, roof crush resistance and child restraint anchorage systems. Some are to address vehicles that will be used only for making deliveries and will have no passengers.
Companies like General Motors, Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, Uber Technologies Inc. and Ford Motor Co. are aggressively testing automated vehicles.
David Friedman, who was an NHTSA deputy administrator during the Obama administration, said the agency under President Donald Trump has failed to adopt any significant life-saving regulations.
"That is a clear failure to fulfill NHTSA's mission to save lives and prevent injuries, especially when you consider that there are technologies out there now that could cut the annual death toll in half," Friedman said.
It often takes NHTSA years to finalize changes or adopt new motor vehicle safety standards.
In February 2018, NHTSA finalized rules requiring "quiet cars" like electric vehicles and hybrids to emit alert sounds to warn pedestrians of their approach after a demand by Congress in 2010.