US Congress goes after road safety regulator

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If there’s one job you’d think a road safety regulatory body would do, it’s making sure that cars are safe for people to drive and that the roadways are likewise. However that appears to be anything but, with the case of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which was blasted this week by Congress for doing a poor job.

It now stands accused of standing by for years, as General Motors put out several vehicles with serious defects. At least 19 people are said to have died as a direct cause of these issues with the vehicles, as well as several hundred injured. Congress is now putting the blame for this terrible accident at the feet of the NHTSA.

This all came out as part of a 44 page report earlier this week, with staff on the House Energy and Commerce Committee leading the way. It even goes so far as to suggest collusion between the regulatory body and auto-manufactures, with one quote stating that the organisation was “more interested in singing ‘Kumbaya’ with the manufacturers than being a cop on the beat.”

However unlike many groups which would have quietly accepted the rebukes and attempted to rectify the situation, the NHTSA is instead passing the buck on to the auto-manufacturers, which it claims to have gone after itself, but states that companies like GM have been slow to recall vehicles with serious safety concerns.

airbag

These are only useful if they deploy

“I want to be clear: NHTSA did not shrug,” said agency official, David Friedman. “NHTSA aggressively pursues these issues.”

It was also pointed out that after the original 2007 reveal that certain airbag features weren’t working as intended in GM vehicles, the car maker deliberately hid certain information from the regulator. Other congressmen and women have criticized the report itself, suggesting that it says little of GM’s involvvement in the scandal and that even though NHTSA is to blame, GM is still the organisation that failed to make its customers safe.

Senators however were not impressed, with several stating that they had little faith left in the NHTSA to perform much more heavy handed monitoring of automotive manufacturers in the future.

Despite these strong words though, little has been said about any form of punishment or reprimand for the regulatory body. Instead, it looks like congress will push through reforms that will actually strengthen the NHTSA’s ability to prosecute auto-makers. Its fine cap will be removed in its entirety, from the current max of $35 million, which could put the fear into auto makers. Similarly, it’s also being given new powers to make it easier for federal prosecutors to charge manufactures with safety violations.

A new head of the organisation is also said to be set for appointment, though this doesn’t mean anyone’s head is going to roll as the previous top dog of the NHTSA left at the end of 2013.

Understandable the car manufactures aren’t happy, but there isn’t a lot they can do about it. GM has pledged to give upwards of $400 million to victims of its vehicles’ shortcomings.

[Thanks Politico]

Image source: Robert F Donovan

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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.