Auto Safety Agency Faces Calls for Overhaul as Biden Presidency Begins

The Biden administration has a chance to “restart the agency that should be leading the world when it comes to vehicle safety,” said Jason Levine, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, one of the six groups.

“There is almost no value from a consumer perspective,” Mr. Levine said. “They might as well be handing out gold stars in kindergarten.

by Christopher Jensen
January 21, 2021

For decades, across administrations of Republicans and Democrats, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has faced criticism from safety advocates who accuse it of routinely falling short of its mission.

Among their complaints: That the agency fails to promptly detect and act on deadly safety problems, such as a faulty ignition switch in General Motors cars that could turn off an airbag in a crash. That it fails to promptly carry out congressional safety mandates, keep track of the adequacy of recalls, strongly regulate autonomous vehicles and update safety standards. And that on occasion it’s too deferential to the automakers.

NHTSA has occasionally conceded failures. But typically it has defended its performance, saying it faces a huge task and has done a good job. Fifty-three million vehicles were recalled in 2019, up from 35 million the previous year. Its actions last year included investigating and penalizing Hyundai and Kia for failing to recall vehicles promptly.

With the Biden administration just underway, a coalition of six automotive safety groups is urging it to do what critics say no administration has done: provide motorists with the protection they deserve by correcting chronic weaknesses in funding, transparency, staffing and leadership at the agency. Such critics have included members of Congress, the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General. Indeed, the agency’s performance is again being audited, according to a report from August.

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