There are few products that impact as many Americans as automobiles. Today, the Center for Auto Safety sent a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee expressing our significant concerns regarding Deputy Administrator Heidi King’s safety record during her time at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). On Wednesday, the Committee is due to consider her nomination to be the Administrator of NHTSA. While Ms. King has only held the Deputy Administrator position for seven months, her actions, or lack of actions, have raised serious questions regarding her ability to direct NHTSA as a safety and enforcement agency.
During her time leading the agency, NHTSA has failed to promulgate safety rulemakings as directed by Congress; has taken steps to rollback the environmental and financial protections for consumers created by the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards; bent over backwards to remove alleged regulatory barriers for robot cars instead of exercising appropriate oversight of this important new technology; appeared satisfied with an underfunded budget for NHTSA; essentially ignored the agency’s authority to levy civil penalties or open investigations; and sat mostly idly by while the Takata airbag inflator recall rates are stuck below 60% and millions of Americans are forced to drive around with ticking time bombs in their dashboards.
NHTSA needs an Administrator who has as her first priority the safety of each and every driver, passenger, and pedestrian. Deaths and injuries from traffic crashes remain a public health crisis, with over 37,000 dead and over 2 million seriously injured every year. Cars continue to hold their place as the number one killer of Americans ages 5-24. New technology promises answers but offers little evidence yet of its reliability. The role of oversight of the auto industry falls to NHTSA, and requires an active leader willing to stand up for safety over automaker profit. Unfortunately, in seven months as Deputy Administrator, Ms. King’s record raises serious concerns about her ability to lead NHTSA at this vital time in the history of auto safety.