Weak Oversight, Deadly Cars

When an auto safety regulator doesn’t know he has subpoena power, consumers are in peril.
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Following the loss of my family in an accident in 1998 I petitioned NHTSA to require data from automobile airbag sensors to be made available to accident investigators. NHTSA denied my petition saying they were working with the car industry to do this voluntarily. NHTSA also worried about the manufacturers' proprietary info. If this petition had been granted, there would have been little mystery about accidents caused by GM's ignition design. Many more defects would also have been easily identified. I have asked my political representatives and various newspapers to include the NYT to ask about the denial of this petition. So far no action. Given the use of black boxes to identify causes of airline accidents, I am puzzled by the lack of action by NHTSA since far more lives are lost in car accidents than in airline accidents.

11 2018-07-02 01:59:52 - Sabre

Profit? That is the way capitalism works. What's wrong with that?
Poor products? Cars run for 100,000 miles! Cars are engineering marvels these days. Have you ever studied for example what it takes to get a bearing running for so long?
Unsafe? Primarily because we drive too fast or drunken! Should we engineer them to stop if we do?

0 2017-08-22 18:24:19 - jzu

If you want to stop the revolving door, you need to pay regulators better. It's that simple. If someone is willing to pay you two or three times what you're making to go work for them, you'd be a fool to pass it up.

4 2017-05-20 17:51:37 - Dave

If you did that . . . you'd only get the lowest quality people to work at the regulator.

0 2017-02-08 15:58:46 - Dave

My guess would be that the revolving door will continue regardless of the compensation the government offers. Because if private industry wants to hire someone, they find the money.

0 2017-02-04 11:59:25 - NYT Reader

Let's see, Reagan was elected in 1980, motor vehicle deaths were 51,000 then and in 2012 they were 34,000. Aggregate Miles driven doubled. Fatalities per mile driven down 66%. Oh the humanity.

0 2017-01-22 13:16:17 - WKing

"These and other major defects were first exposed by safety advocates". Safety advocates such as Mr. Ditlow and Mr. Nader? These men are more interested in getting press than really preventing injuries and death.

Toyota was a big lie. Toyota had "issues" with unintended acceleration, but no defect was ever found. Same with the Audi 100. Remember?

Ford Explorer had no more problems with "rollover" than any other Stupid Utility Vehicle with a center-of-gravity three feet in the air. The thing is six feet tall; don't you, Mr. Driver understand that it will tip easier than a car that's closer to the ground?

Most deaths and injuries are caused by drivers, not by cars. What are you going to do, Mr. Ditlow and Mr. Nader, about all the tailgaters, speeders, unsafe lane changers, phone talkers and texters and other reckless drivers that are responsible for 99% of all the accidents on our roads?

5 2017-01-17 04:42:41 - Garth Goldberg

Cars should be manufactured so that no extreme measures are needed,to control the car! Don't excuse the car companies and regulators. They are clearly not doing their job.

1 2016-12-19 11:07:50 - Katherine Cagle

The corporate takeover of our government has been completed and, as a result, consumers are just people to be exploited for profit without regard to their safety.

Candidates for national office must prove their allegiance to corporate America in order to access the corporate campaign funding that makes their candidacy viable. As a result, we have a political class that is completely devoid of integrity.

One thing is certain: we can no longer look to our government for protection from corporate avarice. I see many comments here offering possible corrective measures, but there has never been a shortage of workable solutions.

Unless a passive public begins exerting its influence via protest, we will remain stuck in this insanity.

12 2016-12-19 08:22:22 - Urizen

This is the same problem at U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Few citizens realize the misnomer: the term "consumer product" should be hyphenated and the word 'safety' should be dropped so that its name means what it is: a commission within the U.S. serving manufacturers of consumer-products. I'm a whistleblower-engineer / ski-binding company founder who was illegally squeezed-out of my ski-binding company by white-collar-criminal 'purported' investors who then shipped bindings that were not fully-developed and that remain non-standard-compliant ... but CPSC — without any testing — rendered that the purported-investors 'will eventually' fix the non-compliant bindings ... therefore, CPSC did nothing to check the behavior of the misappropriated ski-binding company that was taken-over by fraudulent purported-investors. These defective ski-bindings are still being shipped today even though they have repeatedly failed minimum internationa ( ISO ) safety standards for ski bindings. Further, the purported-investors retailed by suing me for whistleblowing. Consequently, I'm now 5-12-years and $630,000 of paid legal fees as THE DEFENDANT who tries to protect MY CUSTOMERS, MY COMPANY and MY TECHNOLOGY from being forever ruined while CPSC does absolutely nothing to stop the folly. Ski bindings that don't release cause broken legs: but ski-bindings that release inadvertently (the problem) can cause impact with a tree, lift-tower, another skier — causing fatality.

0 2016-12-03 11:08:46 - Rick Howell

A repair to a recalled vehicle shouldn't cost you a penny. I've had recalled vehicles from Honda and Subaru and neither charged for the repair.

1 2016-11-22 02:05:24 - Katherine Cagle

If only we had a future President who would enforce US laws?

0 2016-11-17 02:15:35 - Pat Choate

Ralph Nader must have used the same specious logic to determine it was a good idea to run for president in 2000 as he does in demonstrating the long-term “dysfunction” of the auto industry and NHTSA.

He and his co-author say: “The agency’s attitude, in short, was: Don’t bother us with the facts.” The same could be said of the authors here. If the NHTSA and auto industry were so dysfunctional how would he explain the following?:

Driving a car has never been safer. Fatalities per million miles traveled have fallen at an average annual rate of 3% per year, in a persistent nearly monotonic fashion for the last 8 decades. This means that the rate of motor vehicle fatalities has fallen 75% since the NHTSA was established. But the trend toward safer autos was in place even before the NHTSA was established. In fact, today auto fatalities are the same as 1950 in spite of a 6.5 fold increase in miles driven (that is 2.4 Trillion miles). We can only wish that all government functions were this dysfunctional.

2 2016-11-16 18:20:05 - WKing

And he did vastly greater harm than all the good he had done when he selfishly put his ego ahead of the national good and put Bush II into power. I have little respect for Nader anymore.

0 2016-10-30 22:56:59 - infrederick

You say " industrialists will make only the best and safest products. "
Of course they will, they will make the safest best, CHEAPEST versions they can get away with, will charge the most they can for it and laugh all the way to the bank. No matter what the fine for General Motors is, it will NOT make the slightest dent in the companies profits or in the money that the stockholders received for the shoddy cars that were sold. The only one's that will pay are all of millions of Americans who thought they were paying for a first quality car, and instead were sold ( with the full knowledge of company officials and Lawyers) GARBAGE.

4 2016-10-25 09:52:38 - Larry Hoffman

Unfortunately not at all surprising. Since Ronald Reagan it has been the goal of the Republican Party to turn american into a corpocracy... When there is no effective regulation of corporations and industry and limited tax burden on corporations and their wealthy owners and executives. Too bad if a bunch lives get lost in the process... In addition to hollowing out the middle class, destroying upward mobility, ossifying the nation, gutting our moral and ethical underpinnings.

25 2016-10-24 01:07:17 - G

Automobiles are one of the deadliest consumer products on the market, killing over thirty thousand Americans each year. Only tobacco, alcohol, and prescription drugs kill more.

But like everything else in Washington today, regulation is not about safety first. It's a facade of crony capitalism and lobbyists at the trough. Before I die, I would like to hear at least one head of a federal regulatory agency pound the lecturn and report American lives were saved - because their agency's aggressive oversight caught a problem early.

68 2016-10-22 22:23:02 - gels

It seems that we have somehow slipped back into a laissez-faire attitude. History, which we did not learn from, is repeating itself.

Ok, I know how we "slipped back," we - as a people - took a hands-off approach to our elected leaders. "Just relax, leave everything up to us, don't worry about a thing, trust us." That is how we go to this point - again.

We elected, and keep re-electing people that do not have the country's best interest at heart. Scoundrels, the lot of them. Yes, there are some decent Representatives and Senators, but you'd be hard pressed to locate them.

The thing that concerns me is that I don't see a Teddy Roosevelt on the horizon to help lead the fight against the corporations. I don't see a Ray Baker, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell or William Allen White to do the in-depth exposes on the goings on behind the scenes with these corporations.

Hopefully, our elected officials will start doing what they were sent to Washington to do - which is to look out for the citizens of this country.

6 2016-10-18 11:07:38 - nickap2000

In the fantasy cosplay world of "Libertarianism", the manufacturers police themselves and would never produce unsafe products because consumers wouldn't buy them. Any government oversight is considered to be interference of the pure and noble goals of the corporations who, if left alone, will always act in the best interests of society.

Back in the real world, republicans actually believe that and people vote for them. Wait -- which is cosplay and which is the real world again?

11 2016-10-06 12:58:53 - Ricky Barnacle

Having just taken my mothers care in for the ignition 'fix', and also having read that the air bag in her GM may be one of those that ends up recalled, I wish I could feel more surprised. She 'bought American' because she wanted quality-what a joke that has become!.
Anyone who has been paying attention knows that if it makes a profit for some industry giant-no matter which product or service(make that non service) they represent, then the consumer is dead last in their considerations-sometimes literally.
Each day brings new examples of just what kind of mess we have on our hands. The total lack of real accountability by those we are forced to place our trust in if we would navigate daily life ; the refusal of the watchdogs to watch; the lack of any kind of restriction or penalty or even a waiting period on those who serve in that capacity then turning around and going to work for those they were supposed to ride herd on; so many examples of what, in a more honest society, would be called what it is: corruption and collusion.

I wonder how big the jail would have to be if we actually prosecuted those who straddle the ethics fence, or just jump it outright? And I wonder if some of those who sit on the highest court of the land would be among the first to inhabit it's cells?

10 2016-10-05 23:41:49 - rhonda turkington

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