Detroit — After Toyota’s sudden acceleration woes comes the sudden acceleration of federal regulation. A House panel heard testimony this morning on Henry Waxman’s House Energy and Commerce Committee’s proposal to vastly increase the scope of NHTSA regulation over automakers. Will it help prevent another mass recall like Toyota just experienced? No, agree industry insiders.
Indeed, the last such spasm of Washington regulation (acronym: TREAD) – implemented in 2002 after Firestone tread separation caused Ford truck rollovers — expanded NHTSA’s powers “to fix weaknesses in the collection and analysis of auto-defect data, and required manufacturers to provide the agency with access to a mountain of data that had been previously off-limits, primarily related to possible product defects . . . in order to create an ‘early warning system’ to catch defects before they became deadly.”
Here we go again. But results aren’t the intention of the new regulation. The intention is to show that the feds are “doing something” while expanding the power of Democratic safety lobby and tort lawyer special interests. The “Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010” details include:
– A brand new bureaucracy within NHTSA called the “Center for Vehicle Electronics and Emerging Technologies.” This despite the fact that there is no evidence Toyota’s sudden acceleration problem is electronic. All evidence points to mechanical glitches like sticky pedals and floor mats. And lots and lots of driver error. But Congress has embraced the tort lawyer mantra that there are “gremlins in the electronics” – so we get a new anti-gremlin department.
– A new tax on vehicles. Called the “Vehicle Safety Fund” (after all, more bureaucrats must be funded), the fee will rise to $9 over three years. Like that laundry list of fees on your phone bill? The vehicle safety fee opens the floodgates for the same on automobile stickers.
– Washington-knows-best engineering requirements. The bill requires vehicle technologies like brake override, a pedal placement standard, keyless ignitions to allegedly make cars easier to turn off, and even new rules requiring “an intuitive configuration and labeling of gear shifting controls for drivers.” Apparently, P-R-N-D-L is too complicated for us dumb Americans.
– Upgraded event-data recorder equipment. Like the black boxes used in aircraft.
– Public complaint disclosure. A rule forcing automakers to disclose every customer safety complaint – without investigation, cause, or validity. Rep. Mike Rogers, (R., Mich.) calls it “an all you can eat buffet for trial lawyers.”
All of this added cost comes in the midst of the worst industry downturn in auto sales in a generation. But Washington, it seems, comes first.