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NHTSA Head Calls for Speedier Recalls

A more “active” safety agency appears to be well underway.

by on May.25, 2010

David L. Strickland was sworn in January 4, 2010. Prior to his appointment, he served for eight years on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. As the Senior Counsel for the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, he was the lead staff person for the oversight of NHTSA, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He also served as the lead Senate staff person in the formulation of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) reforms and standards included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. He held a staff leadership role in the 2005 reauthorization of NHTSA in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act -- a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

NHTSA is the most recent regulatory body under scrutiny for failure to regulate.

The fallout from  Toyota’s cover-up of unintended acceleration problems and the lack of action at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration continues to reverberate in Washington in ways that will affect all automakers and possibly make our roads safer.

David Strickland, Administrator of NHTSA, in a speech before the Rubber Manufacturers Association annual meeting, said that recall investigations will be made faster, and the recall form simplified to shorten the length of time drivers are “exposed to risk” if there is a problem with a vehicle.

In return, Strickland – while acknowledging that the auto industry faces complex issues involving  rising fuel prices, energy independence, climate change and environment concerns, the wireless world – said he expects “automakers to deal with us honestly, thoroughly, and in a timely manner.” (See Toyota Broke Law! NHTSA Seeks Maximum Fines)

Strickland, an Obama Administration political appointee who took office this past January, has previously said “no mistakes” were made by the safety agency under him or prior administrators, an assertion that was met with open skepticism by many during the Congressional hearings on the Toyota fiasco.  (See NHTSA Did Its Job Handling Toyota Floor Mat and Pedal Recalls, Claims Administrator David Strickland )

NHTSA is charged by critics with failing to do its job as the nation’s safety agency in the ongoing Toyota unintended acceleration and stuck accelerator pedal matters. More than 50 deaths are now alleged to have occurred because of these safety related defects, and hundreds of lawsuits have been filed.

In addition, an open issue remains about whether Toyota engine control software could also be causing some of the ongoing incidents. NHTSA now has NASA scientists with expertise in a computer-controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference and software integrity studying unintended vehicle acceleration in Toyotas. (See National Academy of Sciences and NASA to Study Unintended Acceleration Issues for DOT)

“NASA’s review will be comprehensive and will assist us in determining whether Toyota vehicles contain any flaws that would warrant a defect investigation,” said Strickland.

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NHTSA Did Its Job Handling Toyota Floor Mat and Pedal Recalls, Claims Administrator Strickland

Toyota responded too slowly, though, he admits when pressed.

by on Mar.11, 2010

“No mistakes” were made by the safety agency under either him or prior administrators.

David Strickland, the newly appointed administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vigorously defended the agency’s actions during the decade that complaints grew about Toyota unintended acceleration problems. Strickland testified before the Subcommittee On Commerce, Trade, And Consumer Protection of the U.S. House Of Representatives this afternoon.

Strickland, an Obama Administration political appointee who took office this past January, said “no mistakes” were made by the safety agency under either him or prior administrators, an assertion that was met with open skepticism by some of the panelists.

NHTSA is charged with failing to do its job as the nation’s safety agency in the ongoing Toyota unintended acceleration and stuck accelerator pedal matters. More than 60 deaths are now alleged to have occurred because of these safety related defects. And an open issue remains about whether Toyota engine control software could also be causing some of the ongoing incidents.

Moreover, it took a visit to Japan by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and the former acting administrator of NHTSA to force Japanese executives to initiate a recall. It emerged in previous hearings that Toyota’s American executives are mere figureheads, with no power to order a safety recall.

It also has become clear that Japanese executives only share limited amounts of engineering information with its American subsidiary. Some news organizations have gone so far as to dub Toyota’s management practices a new form of “colonialism.” NHTSA was charged with being a “lapdog” for the auto industry by some critics.

Strickland admitted under questioning that domestic automakers “tend to respond faster” to safety inquiries than do foreign ones.

Strickland’s appearance in what was now the fourth congressional hearing in the past month about how Toyota and NHTSA handled growing concerns about the safety of the Toyota vehicles opened with a statement by him that posed a series of questions about NHTSA’s ability to function.

“The reality is that while the current authority works and the various constituencies have learned to work with them, they were written in the 1960s and 1970s, when the world and the automobile market were profoundly different,” said Strickland. “The question I pose, and the answers I want to have, is whether NHTSA’s statutory authorities accommodate the modern automobile? The modern competitive marketplace?”

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“More importantly, do they allow us to regulate in a way that allows the industry to build and sell safe products that the consumer wants to drive? Do they allow us to promote safety, innovation, and fuel efficiency while still providing effective regulatory and enforcement oversight? And do they allow NHTSA to move at pace with the industry?” Strickland said.

“I’ve asked our legal and program staff to take a look at our existing authorities; to answer these questions; and to make their best recommendations.

Sadly, while the rhetoric was finely honed in the best Obama Administration tradition, Strickland provided no answers to these when pressed by the committee.   (more…)