Democratic senators press U.S. auto agency on safety rules

WASHINGTON, Nov 15 (Reuters) – A group of 10 Democratic senators Tuesday urged U.S. auto safety regulators to move quickly to issue new regulations after traffic crash deaths hit a 16-year-high in 2021.

Senators Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal, Sherrod Brown, Dick Durbin, Jack Reed, Ron Wyden and others wrote the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asking the agency to explain its lack of progress in writing new regulations mandated by Congress.

A 2021 $1 trillion infrastructure law signed into law in 2021 includes 10 new auto safety provisions including “modernizing standards” for crash avoidance technologies, automatic engine shutoff devices and headlights, the letter said.

“When issuing new safety measures, regulators have too often crawled through yellow lights or stalled at red lights,” the letter said. “Congress gave NHTSA the green light to put its pedal to the metal to reduce motor vehicle fatalities.”

The 2021 law also directs NHTSA to set rules requiring new vehicles include technology to prevent alcohol impaired drivers from starting vehicles and mandate systems in to alert drivers to check rear seats after turning off vehicles.

The Transportation Department said in April NHTSA “is committed to ensuring its underlying processes improve the timely completion of congressional mandates.”

NHTSA’s slow pace of writing new auto safety regulations has come under fire before and it is often been years behind deadlines set by Congress to write new safety rules.

An April report by the Government Accountability Office said NHTSA had failed to complete 16 of 22 rules mandated by Congress in legislation passed in 2012 and 2015.

The senators letter noted the November 2021 infrastructure law directed NHTSA to submit a report within six months on the status of prior rules sought by Congress and expected completion dates. “Unfortunately, NHTSA has already missed that deadline by six months,” the letter said.

NHTSA was without a Senate-confirmed administrator for more than five years until Steven Cliff was confirmed in May. Cliff stepped down in September. President Joe Biden has not nominated a replacement.

Cliff told Reuters in July NHTSA was moving aggressively to get new regulations completed. Since January 2021, the agency finalized 16 rules and begun work on 25 new rules, Cliff said.

Reporting by David Shepardson