US: NHTSA boss says GM’s debacle was “trigger” for the agency image

Mark Rosekind is the federal government’s chief auto safety official and his most recent public appearance, in metro Detroit this week for the opening note at the Automated Vehicles Symposium in Ann Arbor on Tuesday also touched the subject of the agency’s recent metamorphosis.

Rosekind said his primary goal since taking the reins at the main auto safety agency is to morph the institution into one that works to prevent tragedies, not just react after they occur. Rosekind became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief last year after the agency was without a proper leader for months and he now preaches an attitude of “more direct, clear emphasis” on “safety, safety, safety. … Our focus has been on how do you change the culture now.” The administrator has come under pressure to tackle the obvious safety issues of the auto industry and to also fix the problems in his own “backyard” after the investigation last month from the Inspector General showed lingering issues. He also embarked on the task of getting Congress and voters the agency desperately needs a bump in funding and also more employees to properly do its job.

The NHTSA audit was a response to last year’s General Motors ignition switch debacle, when it was found the largest US automaker and the third biggest in the world had known of its ignition switch issue for more than a decade – with the flawed parts tied to 124 deaths. “The GM ignition switch has triggered change at NHTSA,” the official said, adding the agency’s true mission is to save people, prevent injuries and reduce the number of accidents.