The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is considering instituting a new set of safety guidelines for safety standards in the manufacturing of new vehicles this year. The agency has made an arrangement with a number of automobile manufacturers and is poised to announce changes to safety standards before the end of the month.
The NHTSA has refused to name the auto manufacturers with which it has struck this bargain, or what the agency has to gain from it. The newly relaxed guidelines are believed to be aimed at the reduction of standards in a number of safety related equipment such as automatic emergency braking which is designed to help drivers to avoid collisions, passenger side airbags, and early warning and braking systems.
Many automobile manufacturers offer features in the vehicles they produce either as standard or optional equipment. Features typically found in high-end luxury vehicles are generally not available in less expensive vehicles.
The new standards are expected to be voluntary, meaning manufacturers may legally choose to cut corners on safety devices in whatever way they choose. The reasoning goes that, because most of these features are optional, or only come with more expensive cars and trucks, there is no reason that they should be standard- since the customer opts out of these features when they buy a vehicle of lesser value.
If this decision goes through, experts expect that consumer advocates will be coming out of the woodwork to oppose it. Many of the consumer advocates who deal frequently with the automobile industry are already quite displeased at the NHTSA turning the authority over these kinds of policies over into the eager hands of the auto manufacturers.
Harvey Rosenfeld, founder of the nonprofit public interest organization Consumer Watchdog said, “If the NHTSA gives up its authority to these private companies and makes the standards voluntary, these companies will get to call all the shots. If that happens, the NHTSA will renounce its authority to regulate their own standards of safety for the very people they serve.”
Rosenfeld and a number of his colleagues have petitioned the NHTSA, asking the agency to set its own regulatory policies regarding standards in collision prevention and abatement systems and to enforce them correctly. To do less than this, they argue amounts to a massive conflict of interest where the same people who have a vested interest of boosting their own profits are allowed to compromise the safety of their own customers.
The NHTSA had recognized that such systems are beneficial in the prevention of automobile injuries and deaths, and they recommend these same systems. The agency recently updated its safety ratings to incorporate a point system for crash avoidance and related advanced technologies.
The petition has been ratified by the Center for Auto Safety, by the former administrator for the NHTSA, and the president of the group Public Citizen.
Rosenfeld said if this decision is left up to the makers of automobiles, crash avoidance technologies will only be useful, if even attainable at all in lower end cars and trucks, in luxury vehicles- essentially setting up the drivers on a caste system where one type of driver is more protected than another.
He went on to say, “Wealthy people get all the best safety technology first as it stands now. That’s because it’s offered only on the most expensive vehicles. And it’s already a huge profit machine for these companies. We think it’s an issue of social equity.”
The NHTSA has taken heat recently for what has been called poor handling of problems which led to two huge safety related recalls. 2014 saw the largest recalls ever to hit the automotive industry. These recalls were in regard to faulty safety equipment which resulted in airbags that would explode and injure drivers and passengers as well as faulty ignition switches which led to a number of accidents.