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MARK ROSEKIND is the new administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sworn in December 22, 2014. And, as Keith Crain of Automotive News observed in his column on January 26, 2015, this could well bring a welcome change in the philosophy of auto safety.
Crain makes two interesting points in his editorial: It’s time to rethink auto safety, and Mark Rosekind is the guy to effect this new thinking.
Rosekind is an authority on human fatigue and the founder of Alertness Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in fatigue management. He has a Ph.D. from Yale and completed a post-doc fellowship at Brown University Medical School. This guy is capable and smart.
Rosekind comes to NHTSA after four years on the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency charged with investigating transportation accidents of all sorts. Many of its high-profile investigations involve airplane crashes, horrific but rare compared with road accidents.
This, as Crain noted in his Automotive News editorial, suggests a philosophical difference between the two transportation segments: The auto industry and its regulators accept the inevitability of car crashes; their focus is on accident survivability. By contrast, because of the dire physics of air crashes, the aircraft industry and its overseers stress accident avoidance.
Redundancies in aircraft design are part of this, as are highly trained and regulated air traffic controllers, pilots and airline maintenance personnel. Crain observed, “But I find it interesting that ground-based commercial carriers such as Greyhound also have a much better safety record than private drivers.”
“The industry,” Crain continued, “has designed the safest vehicles in U.S. history. Perhaps we should take a hard look at improving driver education to balance the equation. If we could lower driver error and eliminate drunken driving, we would see a marked reduction in highway fatalities almost immediately.”
Compared to those in many other countries, U.S. standards for licensing drivers are lax indeed. In Germany, for instance, a required first step is successful completion of an authorized driving school program. After this, the applicant must pass a two-part federal test, first theory and then a driving examination. Both are non-trivial.
I recall the primary challenge of an Ohio driving test, taken years ago as a lad of 16, was parallel parking.
Note, as well, that the U.S. continues to be a patchwork of state regulations with regard to driver age, training and ability. Other laws vary from region to region too. Crain observed, “Penalties for infractions, including drunken driving, are as varied as licensing. That should have been fixed decades ago.”
Perhaps NHTSA’s Mark Rosekind will agree. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015