The National Highway Safety Administration was created 50 years ago in an effort to curb the number of Americans dying or getting injured in car crashes. Its role was to create safety standards for motor vehicles, supervise recalls in case of defects, educate people and conduct research on traffic safety as well as allocate safety grants to states.
Back in the days, when the agency was created, more than 50,000 people were killed very year in car accidents in the US. It went down to 32,479 in 2011 and then gradually went back up to 36,120 last year.
Over the years the Agency had its ups and downs, the last four years were among the worst
The agency which was counting more than 900 employees before the Reagan administration, has suffered many cuts in its budget since 1981 and employs now 620 people full time. Over the last four years, the agency had no one heading it and, according to safety advocates, did not achieve much to increase traffic safety. It was indeed quite the opposite. Not only the agency got even more delayed in developing new safety regulations voted by Congress years ago but also weakened the mileage standards for motor vehicles in the fuel economy program developed during the Obama administration. Instead of putting efforts in rulemaking the NHTSA has been focusing on creating campaigns to encourage safe driving and supervising recalls. The agency has not been very active either in overseeing manufacturers’ safe practices. Civil settlements with the motor vehicle industry went down from 49 civil penalties totaling almost $700 millions during the Obama administration to 7 penalties totaling a little bit more than $230 million with one penalty again Hyundai and Kia totaling a record $210 million – the fine was then lowered to $81 million – during the Trump administration.
In a recent article FairWarning is going through a detailed list of all the tasks that the NHTSA has been cancelled or delayed over the last years. The article can be read here