Bush Administration’s Attempt to Pre-empt Lawsuits Against Automakers Shows Little Regard for Consumers

Oct. 8, 2008

Bush Administration’s Attempt to Pre-empt Lawsuits Against Automakers Shows Little Regard for Consumers

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen*

As it has done more than 20 times in the past three years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a safety standard that asserts that any manufacturer whose vehicle complies with the federal standard – in this case requiring installation of a safety belt for each sitting position in the vehicle – can’t be sued under state law for injuries that occur in those vehicles.

How many times is NHTSA going to show its disdain for consumers? By issuing yet another regulation that seeks to immunize vehicle manufacturers from liability for personal injury caused by faulty products, NHTSA once again has put the interests of automakers above those of the public. Bush administration appointees have inserted these preamble statements in more than 50 consumer protection standards.

While the agency has no authority to enforce this statement, it is plainly an effort to encourage courts to dismiss liability suits against automakers without regard to the deaths and injuries that their products may have caused.

The fear of lawsuits is one of the greatest incentives automakers have to build stronger and safer vehicles. For NHTSA to suggest that automakers should have blanket immunity from consumer liability lawsuits means 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.

*Note: Joan Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1977-1981.

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