Here to Help You Get Life Back On Track

AP: NHTSA has illegally delayed at least 13 vehicle safety rules

On Behalf of | Oct 26, 2021 | Car Accidents, Traffic News |

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has failed to make vehicle or traffic safety rules in at least 13 areas even though the law orders it to do so, according to the Associated Press. Advocates worry that the agency’s failure to act is exacerbating an already dangerous situation: a substantial increase in reckless driving during the pandemic.

Part of the problem appears to be that NHTSA currently has no permanent leader but an acting administrator. That could make it hard for the agency to respond strategically when the rules it promulgates are opposed by lobbyists. Or, it could illustrate that NHTSA is not getting the administration’s full attention.

Lobbyists do commonly oppose vehicle and traffic safety rules. They often argue that the rule would be too expensive for carmakers to implement profitably. They may argue that the proposal is too restrictive or even outdated. When this happens, presidential administrations sometimes respond by putting proposed rules on hold.

For example, a 2011 initiative called for large commercial trucks to be equipped with speed limiting devices, which would keep those trucks going the speed limit. The Biden administration recently put that requirement on indefinite hold, according to the AP. Before that, the Trump administration sidetracked at least four traffic safety proposals, including adding sleep apnea to the list of medical conditions truck drivers should be tested for.

These proposed rules can be put on hold even when Congress put hard deadlines into the laws requiring NHTSA to act within a specific period. And NHTSA has sometimes missed deadlines that were promised to federal courts, the AP says.

What are some of the NHTSA rules that have been postponed?

Congress set deadlines for NHTSA to promulgate these six rules, for example, but they are years out of date:

  • Rear seat belt reminders in cars: A device that would sound a warning if someone in the back seat is unbuckled. Originally due in 2015.
  • Side-impact crash standards for child car seats. Originally due in 2014.
  • Requirement that auto makers maintain records of safety defects for at least 10 years. Originally due in 2017
  • Anti-ejection protection standards for large buses. Originally due in 2014.
  • Standards for “smart” headlights that dim for oncoming traffic. Originally due in 2018.
  • Backup cameras in all passenger vehicles: Originally due in 2011.

In its defense, NHTSA says that it has made progress on other important initiatives. For example, it gained the agreement of 20 auto makers to make automatic emergency braking standard in at least 95% of new cars by 2022. Ten of the carmakers have already met the goal. And, 20 carmakers have agreed to install reminders in all cars to prompt drivers to check their back seats for children before they lock up. This will occur by the 2025 model year.

Meanwhile, however, many important initiatives have not resulted in NHTSA rules, and that could mean people are dying unnecessarily.

In 2020, traffic deaths spiked dramatically. It is estimated that 38,680 people died in traffic accidents last year, which was the largest total since 2007. At least 800 of those fatalities were among back seat passengers who had no seat belts on. The rear seat belt reminder feature would have saved more than half of those people, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

“We need a NHTSA administrator who is confirmed and has the political ability to get some things done,” says the head of the GHSA. “There’s no time for a learning curve. We’re in a bad spot in traffic safety. We’ve got work to do. And we need the administration’s attention.”