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Could conflict of interests at NHTSA be linked to crashes?

Driving safely doesn't necessarily begin and end with motorists. Of course operating a vehicle in the safest way possible can be the best way for an individual driver to prevent a crash, but there are a number of people who also make decisions that affect motorist safety in Georgia and nationwide.

For example, there are federal agencies tasked with enforcing laws related to the automotive industry and safe driving practices. However, one such agency has been targeted for criticism after reports suggested that many agency officials have eventually taken jobs in the automotive industry. This, critics argue, has created an environment with conflicts of interests that have had serious consequences for public safety.

The problem lies with the relationships that carry over between those in a position to create and enforce regulations and those who are often negatively impacted by these regulations. The argument is that there are too many people -- more than 60 to be exact -- who start on one side and end up on the other, calling into question their intentions.

For instance, an official with the NHTSA could be motivated to oppose restrictions on tailpipe emissions if he or she wanted to win favor with leaders in the automotive industry for future career purposes. There could also be situations in which a former agency worker still has influence over officials at NHTSA, even though he or she has left for a position in the auto industry.

According to critics, this has led to failed safety measures, delayed recalls and potentially catastrophic environmental issues that have not been properly addressed. One solution that has been proposed is to increase the time between working at the agency and working in a position to influence the NHTSA. Currently, former agents only have to wait two years; the proposal suggests increasing this to five years to allow potentially compromising relationships to "grow stale."

Until significant changes are made in federal safety agencies, the ultimate price of lacking regulations will be paid by the motorists who are hurt or killed in accidents caused by unsafe drivers, inadequate safety measures and dangerous automobiles.

Source: USA Today, "Safety sacrificed in NHTSA revolving door: Column," Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang, Feb. 25, 2015

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