NHTSA in Action

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Agency makes announcements on automobile investigations and fuel economy standards.

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This has been a busy week for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

On Tuesday, the agency announced the launch of several extensive investigations related to unintended acceleration in automobiles. These investigations follow in the wake of Toyota’s recent problems, but NHTSA will also be examining technical issues about acceleration and electronic speed controls with respect to cars manufactured across the industry. In addition, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Inspector General will be investigating NHTSA’s regulatory capacity. The investigation of the government’s role appears focused on, if not designed to justify, additional budgetary resources for NHTSA. DOT states that the Inspector General will “determine whether ODI had the appropriate number of personnel and staff expertise to assess and address the technical issues raised by the complaints [which] will help DOT officials determine whether more resources are necessary for pursuing defect investigations.”

On Thursday, NHTSA joined with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to announce new fuel economy standards for automobiles. These standards respond to a directive President Obama issued in January, 2009, calling on NHTSA to coordinate with EPA to take regulatory action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. The new standards will start phasing in more stringent fleet-wide fuel economy performance with the 2012 model year, requiring automakers meet a fleet-wide average of about 35 miles per gallon by model year 2016. By comparison, existing NHTSA fuel economy standards call for fleet-wide fuel economy of about 27 miles per gallon for model year 2011.