NHTSA falling behind on auto regulations, lawmakers say

Heidi King: “We believe the budget does reflect the resources needed to succeed.” Photo credit: Courtesy of the Energy and Commerce Committee

WASHINGTON — Members of a House panel wondered Wednesday whether NHTSA is stretched too thin to fulfill a growing list of responsibilities for ensuring motor vehicle safety and reducing traffic-related deaths.

Democrats said the situation is unlikely to improve because the White House has not nominated a permanent administrator to lead the regulatory agency and is proposing to reduce its budget.

“It is troubling that NHTSA does not have the resources, people or expertise it needs to fulfill its mandate” and the absence of an administrator shows the Trump administration does not see auto safety as a priority, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said during an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing.

“We believe the budget does reflect the resources needed to succeed,” Heidi King said in her first congressional testimony since becoming deputy administrator in late September, adding that she is capable of running the agency.

Several lawmakers said NHTSA is not in position to implement rules governing development of automated vehicles because of the lack of technical experts and that it already has problems regulating safety of conventional vehicles.

Members said recall completion rates for Takata airbags are too low and that the agency has fallen behind on issuing several rule-makings mandated by Congress, including ones for rear seat belt reminders and protecting children in car seats during side impact crashes.

It is also behind on promises to update the New Car Assessment Program, which helps consumers assess vehicle technologies when making purchasing decisions, and on vehicle-to-vehicle communication standards so cars and trucks can move in a connected fashion.

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