New NHTSA head pledges crackdown on auto-safety

Car safety is a hot topic around the world at the moment. In countries like India and China with the highest numbers of road deaths each year (nearly half a million between them), there has been a big push for automation and improved safety features in cars at a mandatory basic level. In the US there’s also been some controversy surrounding Takata, an airbag production company that provided as many as eight million cars in the US with faulty airbag containers which if exposed to certain humidities, would explode upon impact doing serious damage to the driver.

In the wake of that discovery, the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is taking the brunt of the government’s and public outcry over this event, which has seen those millions of cars recalled and at least a few deaths and injuries associated with the faulty hardware. The question is, how did such a flawed airbag container end up in so many cars?

That’s an investigation that will no doubt be ongoing for some time, but for now, the new nominee for head of the NHTSA, former fatigue researcher, Mark Rosekind, has pledged to come down hard on those that would try to circumvent auto-safety measures.

“If confirmed, you have my commitment that I will maintain an aggressive focus on continuing to improve NHTSA’s safety record,” he told the Senate Commerce Committee. “To this task, I will bring a fresh set of eyes and a different perspective honed over the years as a safety professional and manager.”


The senate were receptive to his gusto, but warned that he would need to be “feared,” in order to be an effective head of the organisation, especially considering how much its authority has been shaken in the wake of this latest safety debacle.

Mr Rosekind’s first act as head of the organisation looks likely to be to secure extra funding and hire on new staff members. During his talk with the senate, he pointed out that as it stands, over 75,000 complaints come into the NHTSA every single year and yet there are just nine staff members assigned to look over them. He also wants to upgrade the computer systems they use and bring the entire organisation into the 21st century, overhauling the way complaints are managed and the way the organisation communicates with others.

Mr Rosekind is seen as a breath of fresh air for the safety regulator, which while having interim leader David Freidman, at its helm for the past year, hasn’t had an official head in a long time. That could mean that Rosekind doesn’t last long as he makes a perfect head to chop, but his previous interest in human fatigue ultimately led to him learning and researching into driver and road safety, making him one of the more qualified men that has ever held the position.

It will be interesting to see how hard he really does come down on the auto industry and especially manufacturers like Takata which have put people’s lives at risk.

    Jon Martindale

    Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.

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