Feds and 18 car companies team up to create new auto safety standards

Anthony Foxx, left, and Mark Rosekind

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, left, with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind in Washington in November, announces fines against the maker of defective airbags.

(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA)

The federal government will team with U.S. and global automakers to create new safety standards for vehicles on American roads.

Making the announcement Friday in Detroit at the close of the North American International Auto Show, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said his agency would join with car companies to design “a new, proactive, collaborative approach to safety.”

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Eighteen car companies have aligned with the Obama administration on the effort, including the major U.S., German, Japanese and South Korean manufacturers.


The “proactive” approach has not been spelled out, but is likely to include pressure on auto companies to provide, as standard features on all their automobiles, safety features such as automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and other technologies designed to prevent crashes.

Foxx emphasized the importance of building vehicles and safety systems that eliminate or reduce the instances of human error, which he said were responsible for 94% of all crashes on American roads -- crashes that cost the lives of 32,675 people in 2014, the last year for which full statistics are available.

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The new safety standards will also call upon automakers to ratchet up quality control, and upon the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to be more aggressive when automakers err.


That agency has come under criticism from lawmakers and consumer advocates for not having gotten involved earlier regarding ignition switch problems with GM vehicles and airbag problems with many automakers’ cars. Recalls on those vehicles came only after multiple deaths and injuries.

“Real safety is finding and fixing defects before someone gets hurt, rather than just punishing after the damage is done,” Foxx said.

The agreement has already been questioned by some consumer groups, who believe putting auto companies in charge of setting safety standards is akin to asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

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“With multiple instances of deadly defective cars ... now is not the time for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to abdicate its responsibility to enforce auto safety through binding safety rules,” said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit organization.  

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