Friday, April 10, 2015 | New York City
Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Friday, April 10, 2015
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Tom Louizou for that kind introduction, and for the outstanding job you continue to do as our Region 2 Administrator.
It’s a pleasure to be back in New York City and to be part of the excitement that is the International Auto Show. It’s thrilling to get a look at the newest and best from our automakers, and particularly what they’re doing to advance the safety of the American public.
The industry is delivering safety advances that only a few years ago were the stuff of dreams. Newer technologies such as collision warning and automatic braking systems are just starting to penetrate the fleet and beginning to demonstrate their life-saving benefits. We’re looking forward to seeing these advances spread throughout the fleet because it will mean lives saved and injuries prevented.
The World Traffic Safety Symposium is one of the most important events of the auto show each year, so I also want to express my gratitude to the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association for again bringing together the safety community for this important discussion and for including NHTSA in this enduring initiative.
We are all here today because of a tragic number: 32,719 people lost their lives in automotive crashes in 2013. That’s 90 deaths every day.
They were mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, loved ones, neighbors, friends, and co-workers. All of their deaths were preventable. They deserve all of our best efforts to prevent additional deaths and injuries.
Saving those lives is NHTSA’s mission. But it is everyone’s responsibility: NHTSA, the states, and each one of us who gets behind the wheel. And that responsibility certainly extends to the industry that designs, builds, sells and services cars. We each have roles to play. And today I want to talk about the role of industry, including manufacturers and dealers, in saving those lives.
At NHTSA, we’ve identified three priorities that will guide us over the next two years. First, we must improve the defect recall system so that we identify problems earlier and address them more quickly, with a goal of remedying every single vehicle on our roads with a safety defect. I’ll have more to say about that in a moment.
Second, we need to strengthen NHTSA’s core safety programs. We’re launching new initiatives, such as a new effort to combat drowsy driving, and strengthening programs that have become household phrases, such as “Click It Or Ticket.” As this symposium shows, auto dealers and other industry partners are involved in behavioral safety efforts. But I hope when you leave here today you’ll ask what more your company or organization can do. Could car dealers make sure their customers leave the lot educated not just about the features of their new vehicle, but about how to drive it free of impairment and distraction?
Third, we will help drive technology innovation. From the most basic, like a seat belt, to the newest technologies, like lane departure warnings and rear-view cameras, these innovations have played a critical role in making us safer.
There is much that industry can be proud of when it comes to technical innovation, and NHTSA will continue to play a role in fostering that work. A recent NHTSA study showed that over the past 50 years safety technologies have saved 613,501 lives. But we all have more to do. Industry must continue pushing forward on revolutionary technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle communications and the DADSS alcohol detection system.
Today I’d like to focus on the first item on our list: strengthening the defect recall system. What has become clear over the past several months is that NHTSA requires additional authority under the law, as well as greater cooperation and effort from manufacturers and dealers, to ensure that vehicles with safety-related defects are removed from our roads before they can injure or kill. That’s where President Obama’s GROW AMERICA Act comes in.
GROW AMERICA is President Obama’s bold transportation investment plan that will modernize our roads, bridges, railways and transit systems. In six years, it would increase investment in transportation by 45 percent. That means better roads, less traffic, and more jobs. Here in New York state — where nearly 40 percent of bridges are in need of repair or unable to handle their traffic load, and where 60 percent of roads are in poor or mediocre condition — that should be welcome news.
The President also made safety central to GROW AMERICA. To this end, the proposal strengthens NHTSA’s ability to protect Americans from safety-related defects in several ways.
It would increase the maximum fine that NHTSA can impose from $35 million to $300 million to ensure that companies comply with the law. It would allow NHTSA to take immediate action when we believe there is an imminent hazard of injury or death; other public safety agencies already have this authority.
GROW AMERICA also would require that used car dealers and rental car agencies fix any open recalls on a vehicle before they can sell or rent that vehicle. We know that Americans will be safer if we implement these measures. We know from the tragic deaths of the Houck sisters in California and of Carlos Solis in Texas that Americans are dying on our roads because of defective vehicles being rented or sold. If we all agree that safety comes first, that safety is everyone’s number one priority, then everyone should embrace these common sense, lifesaving measures. The standard needs to be that every time a rental car agency or a used car dealer hands the keys to a consumer, that car is free of safety defects. Every time.
The rental car industry has embraced legislation to require remedies for rental cars. Yet some in the auto industry oppose these proposals, or suggest instead much weaker steps – for instance, applying repair provisions only to vehicles when a manufacturer has issued a do-not-drive order. But we know such orders are extraordinarily rare – in fact, millions of vehicles with defective Takata air bags or faulty General Motors ignition switches are not covered by do-not-drive orders. It’s simply unacceptable that vehicles with such defects are rented or sold. But an act of Congress is not needed to address this situation: there is nothing stopping dealers, today, from handling all recalls before a vehicle is sold or rented.
NHTSA is also expecting greater accountability from dealers of new automobiles. Even when we identify defects and issue recalls, too many vehicles go unrepaired. To address this, GROW AMERICA would requires franchise dealers to check for open recalls every time a vehicle from that manufacturer is brought in for service, and notify the vehicle owner of the results. It’s a simple step that can take less time than checking the oil. And it could save a life. We hope Congress will act on this proposal, but again, this is a step dealers could take today, without congressional action.
As you know, new car dealers are already required to ensure that before they deliver a new vehicle to a customer, that vehicle is free from open recalls. This is a requirement the vast majority of dealers take seriously. Certainly, NHTSA takes it seriously – twice in the last six months we have assessed civil penalties against dealers who sold vehicles that were under recall.
One of those cases involved a General Motors dealer in Pennsylvania. To its credit, as a result of that investigation, GM examined its entire dealer network. GM informed NHTSA last week that after its review, the company is making systemic changes in its computer inventory systems.
Those systems will now notify dealers about the recall status of vehicles on their lots – and the amount GM will reimburse the dealer for performing the necessary remedies. And, GM’s systems will no longer allow dealers to submit requests for dealer sales incentives on a vehicle until all open recalls on that vehicle have been remedied. So, dealers will know they stand to make money by remedying recalls, and that they will lose the opportunity to earn sales incentives until they perform those remedies.
All other manufacturers and dealers should embrace the proactive approach that GM is taking. There is no legal requirement, today, for GM to make these changes, just as there is no legal requirement to check for recalls when a car comes in for service, or to remedy used or rental vehicles under recall. But there is no doubt these steps would make Americans safer. The more proactive we all are, the more lives we can save. Industry can work to solve issues like these before they require action by NHTSA or Congress. I think that’s a better approach for all involved—especially the public.
GROW AMERICA takes what NHTSA does best — protecting Americans as they drive, ride, and walk — and helps us do it even better. It will demand greater accountability from all of us for making our roads safer. And it will ensure that we continue to drive down deaths and injuries on America’s roads. With so many lives on the line, we must turn these reforms into law. We hope that industry will be there also pushing to make it happen — and, perhaps more importantly, that industry will take a proactive safety approach that will save lives even before Congress acts.