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Senate Evaluates NHTSA’s Auto Safety Programs

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Sept. 24, 2014—Big changes may be in store for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance recently held a hearing in Washington, D.C., evaluating NHTSA programs.

The hearing, entitled, “Oversight of and Policy Considerations for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration," evaluated the efficiency of the NHTSA’s highway and vehicle safety programs. The hearing was the latest in a series of congressional reviews that stemmed from NHTSA’s handling of General Motor’s ignition switch failures.

Deputy Administrator David Friedman served as NHTSA’s witness. Other witnesses included Joseph Comé from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Jacqueline S. Gillan of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Kendell Poole of the Governors Highway Safety Association, and Robert Strassburger of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

During the hearing, subcommittee members from both political parties had sharp criticism for the NHTSA. 

“Nobody on this subcommittee believes that there aren’t people [at the agency] trying to do the right thing...but it’s hard to sit here and listen to you. You want to obfuscate responsibility rather than take responsibility," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), subcommittee chairman.

The remarks echoed the tone of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Committee’s report released earlier that same day, detailing NHTSA’s perceived shortcomings in regard to the GM ignition switch recall.

“It is tragic that the evidence was staring NHTSA in the face and the agency didn’t identify the warnings," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), committee chairman. "NHTSA exists not just to process what the company finds, but to dig deeper. They failed. We’ll keep looking for answers, and keep working toward solutions—whether it means changing our laws or pressing for change at the companies that follow them and the agencies that enforce them—but we know for sure that NHTSA was part of the problem and is going to have to be part of the solution.”

The committee's full 45-page report is entitled, "Staff Report on the GM Ignition Switch Recall: Review of NHTSA."

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