Fatigue Expert Nominated to Run Highway Safety Agency

By Jeff Green and Jeff Plungis | November 21, 2014

The White House plans to nominate a specialist in human fatigue and alertness to run the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as the regulator undergoes a review sparked by its botched recall of defective airbags linked to deaths and injuries.

Mark Rosekind, now a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, would take over from NHTSA deputy director David Friedman, who has been overseeing the agency since David Strickland left the post earlier this year. The appointment comes on the eve of a U.S. Senate hearing on the investigation and recall of almost 8 million vehicles for a Takata Corp. airbag defect linked to at least four deaths in the U.S.

“Mark is a leader ready-made for this critical responsibility,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in an e-mail. “I expect him to hold not only the auto industry accountable, but I also expect him to help us raise the bar on safety ever higher within the U.S. Department of Transportation.”

The White House has announced a review of whether NHTSA is managing risks to public safety in the appropriate way, after it botched an effort to inform motorists about the airbag defect. The work will be done at the same time as the Transportation Department’s inspector general evaluates NHTSA’s slow response to an unrelated ignition-switch defect in General Motors Co. cars.

Rosekind will face serious challenges at a “battered and beleaguered agency” and must do a better job discerning danger in cases similar to the GM ignition switches and Takata air bags, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said in a statement. In those cases, drivers faced danger long after NHTSA had reason to act, the Connecticut Democrat said.

Studying Fatigue

“Regulatory capture has created a failure to ask tough questions and has needlessly put lives at risk,” Blumenthal said. “I hope Dr. Rosekind can begin the process of rehabilitating this agency.”

Rosekind studied the effect of fatigue on pilots in multiple studies while at NASA. He later founded Alertness Solutions, which consulted with private companies on how to manage fatigue among their workforce.

He became a member of the National Transportation Safety Board in 2010 and has acted as a spokesman for that agency at seven major transportation accidents.

“Rosekind is one of the nation’s most respected safety watchdogs across all modes of transportation, and I welcome his keen eye and life-long commitment to safety, and I look forward to working with him,” Friedman said in a statement yesterday.

NHTSA has been dealing with the fallout from the recent airbag recalls. It reversed course on Nov. 18, after months of allowing regional recalls in humid areas, demanding that Takata and 10 automakers broaden national campaigns. Takata said the move could risk lives by aggravating a shortage of airbag replacements needed in areas where investigations have shown to be more prone to malfunction, like Florida and Georgia.

(With assistance from Alan Levin in Washington.)

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