NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Rewarding Regulatory Failure With More Power And Funds

September 12, 2000

Government bureaucrats are adept at turning their mismanagement into excuses that they lack sufficient authority or don't have enough funds -- and that more of each are needed to avoid future fiascoes. Critics say officials of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are embarked on just such a ploy in the wake of the Ford-Firestone tire debacle.

NHTSA was warned as early as July 1998 about the possibility of a problem with Firestone tires -- but failed to act. NHTSA didn't think a series of alerts from a State Farm auto-insurance analyst indicated a potential defect. Critics charge this is not the first time the agency has been asleep at the wheel.

  • Even after a federal court in 1978 overturned a NHTSA truck brake standard because it made trucking "even more hazardous," the agency persisted with it despite mounting evidence of widespread malfunctions.
  • A General Accounting Office report established that NHTSA's airbag mandate, which has so far resulted in the deaths of 99 children, ignored evidence of a hazard to them -- and that NHTSA failed to immediately warn the public because of "the potential for bad press."
  • In May, NHTSA mandated even more complex air bags to fix the problems of its first rule -- but there is no real-world evidence these "advanced" air bags will perform any better.
  • Finally, there is the agency's CAFE program to increase average fuel efficiency -- which resulted in lighter-weight cars less able to withstand crashes.

According to one peer-reviewed study, CAFE increases accident deaths by 2,000 to 4,000 annually -- dwarfing the number of fatalities due to separation of tread on Firestone tires.

Source: Sam Kazman (Competitive Enterprise Institute), "Punish Ford-Firestone, But Don't Reward NHTSA," Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2000.


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