The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has attempted to preempt state tort law by redefining “designated seating positions.” The new definition helps determine the number of seat belts required in a vehicle, and eliminates the exception for auxiliary seats. This allows all intended seating locations to provide crash protection.
The final rule uses specific language in the body of the rule to preempt state tort claims. NHTSA has used preemptive language in safety standards 20 times in the past three years, said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen and former NHTSA administrator. However, previous preemption language has only been in the preamble and not the text of the rule, which made it an advisory opinion, Lee Weisbrod, president of the trial lawyers’ American Association of Justice, observed. He also noted that the language is contrary to congressional intent.
Because of the suggestion of the blanket immunity, Claybrook concluded that “more defective vehicles will be manufactured, fewer will be recalled, the public will have less information about injury causation and more families will needlessly lose loved ones on our roads each day.”
This measure, pushed by the Bush Administration, invades states’ rights and is terrible for the American public. NHTSA, and the federal government, is currently incapable of effectively monitoring the auto manufacturers when it comes to establishing and enforcing feasible safety standards for automobiles. One of the most effective checks on the auto industry is the American trial bar, which has, over the past many decades, brought about many of the safety features seen on modern automobiles. Because of trial lawyers suing the manufacturers for building unsafe automobiles, the manufacturers have been dragged kicking and screaming to the alter of safety. What NHTSA is doing, with prodding from the current administration, is trying to grant immunity to the automobile manufacturers, one step at a time. No one should have immunity from being held responsible for his/her/its actions, including Corporate America.