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Consumer Advocates Demand Federal Agency Act on Auto Safety Petition

NHTSA’s Unprecedented Secret Deal with Automakers Flouts Law, Endangers Motorists
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Harvey Rosenfield, Clarence Ditlow & Joan Claybrook

Santa Monica, CA -- A backroom deal by the federal agency responsible for auto safety to allow automakers to avoid following federal safety rules is unlawful and will lead to more deaths and injuries, three top consumer advocates said today.  They urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to grant the formal petition the advocates filed in January to require automakers to make advanced safety technologies standard equipment on all cars and light trucks.

The January 2016 petition by Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Auto Safety and Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA Administrator and now President Emeritus of Public Citizen, asked the agency to require Automatic Emergency Braking, a set of three new technologies to prevent collisions, as standard equipment. But in March, NHTSA announced that it had reached a secret agreement with twenty automakers allowing them to roll out weakened versions of the technology on a “voluntary” basis over a ten year period, evading formal federal safety protections.

The groups said “Americans will pay a heavy toll in deaths and injuries” for NHTSA’s “abdication of its regulatory responsibilities,” calling it “unprecedented in the history of the agency.”

NHTSA was required by law to respond to the Petition by May 12. The agency missed that deadline.

Agency on a Collision Course with Consumers

Consumer advocates were incredulous that federal safety officials would depart from the agency’s mission of independent regulation of the auto industry, particularly given recent auto safety scandals and the challenges posed by Google and other high-tech companies pushing to put robot cars on the road, “which pose independent and unprecedented social as well as safety concerns,” according to the Petition.

“NHTSA was established by Congress in 1966, after extensive hearings and evaluation, based on which lawmakers concluded that, ‘The promotion of motor vehicle safety through voluntary standards has largely failed. The unconditional imposition of mandatory standards at the earliest practicable date is the only course commensurate with seriously reducing the highway death and injury toll,’” the advocates point out.

The letter states:

Recent years have seen a record number of vehicle recalls, serious safety scandals, including defective GM ignition switches, Takata airbags and unintended acceleration by Toyotas; and the Volkswagen and Hyundai fuel economy scandals. We had hoped NHTSA would recognize that complying with the requirements of the rulemaking process, with its guarantees of science-based decision-making, due process and disclosure, is the only way to assure public confidence in the agency’s actions.

The Petition noted that making the safety technologies standard equipment is the only way to ensure that the technologies are rapidly and uniformly deployed and “that all motorists are protected by available safety technologies, not just those in higher income brackets.”

About the AEB Technologies

Automatic Emergency Braking consists of a suite of three technologies:

• Forward Collision Warning alerts a motorist (via audio or visual signals) that a collision with a car in front is imminent.

• Crash Imminent Braking intervenes when the driver does not respond to the Forward Collision Warning; it automatically applies the brakes to prevent a collision or reduce the vehicle’s speed at impact.

• Dynamic Brake Support applies supplemental braking when the braking applied by the driver is insufficient to avoid a collision.

NHTSA has heavily researched AEB system and established strong AEB standards that govern the federal government’s car rating system. But the “Memorandum of Understanding” announced by NHTSA in March says automakers will pledge to implement much weaker versions. Neither NHTSA nor consumers may challenge the automakers’ violation of their pledges, nor would NHTSA have authority to recall cars with defects in the technologies.

The letter to NHTSA is available here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltr_nhtsa_re_aeb_petition5-23-16.pdf

The January 13, 2016 Petition is available here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/newsrelease/consumer-advocates-ask-auto-safety-agency-make-new-technologies-standard-equipment-urge-

Consumer Watchdog’s letter to NHTSA urging the agency to proceed with caution on driverless autonomous vehicles – robot cars – is available here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/newsrelease/google%E2%80%99s-proposal-%E2%80%9Cfast-track%E2%80%9D-approval-driverless-cars-threat-public-safety-consumer-wa

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