Better World Club

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ralph Nader Responds in Advance to KA Article

Will He Get Behind the Wheel on Revamping Our Regulatory System?

In the March 17th edition of Kicking Asphalt, we published an article on the need to re-evaluate and revitalize the relationship between automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That necessity has been made particularly apparent as a result of the NHTSA's difficulty in pinpointing the exact problems behind Toyota's recent safety recalls. In the article, we wondered why Ralph Nader, the automobile safety pioneer responsible for the movement that gave birth to the NHTSA in 1970, had been seemingly silent through the weeks of Congressional hearings with Toyota executives and NHTSA officials.

Well, Ralph must know us even better than we thought. Not only did he anticipate our reaction to the Toyota recalls, he also expected that we'd expect him to chime in, which is what he did in this op-ed published in The Los Angeles Times (thanks to BWC member Ian Wilder for sending us the link). Even better, Nader's response, dated February 28, came well in advance of our article. And although Nader hasn't yet (to our knowledge) written a book on the regulatory problems brought to light by Toyota's safety issues, he does agree with us that the regulatory system needs to be rethought.

In fact, Nader goes as far as to say that an underfunded and deregulated NHTSA enabled Toyota in skirting more serious recalls when it first learned of problems with unintended acceleration in its vehicles: "Given the lax regulation, it is not surprising that Toyota responded to the 7-year-old sudden-acceleration problem by first blaming driver error, then by claiming floor mat interference." He also notes the glaring absence of a dedicated electronics expert at the NHTSA in an era when "cars have been described as computers on wheels."

We were very happy to know that Ralph is of such a like mind on the issue. (And we're wildly appreciative that he took the time to respond in advance to our wonderings on what part he might play in the re-envisioning of the NHTSA!) But though we're encouraged that Nader hasn't been completely silent, we'd still love to see him take on a larger and higher profile role. He's probably already got staffers working on the problem, why not at least push one of them forward into the automobile safety limelight? We won't even ask Nader to come back to writing non-fiction.

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