DOT Sued For Failing To Issue Rule On Rear Visibility In Cars

Everyone knows that the wheels of government don’t always turn quickly, but the folks at the Dept. of Transportation have been sitting on a Congressionally mandated new safety rule, one that could save an awful lot of lives and prevent even more injuries, for several years. In an effort to compel the DOT to finally act, several consumer groups and the parents of children who have died in auto accidents have sued the agency in a federal court.

In 2008, the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act directed the DOT to issue a rule requiring significantly improved rear visibility in new consumer vehicles. The DOT then proposed such a rule in 2010, saying it would save more than 100 lives and prevent thousands of injuries every year. And even though Congress ordered that this rule be put into place by 2010, the White House and the DOT have once again hit the brakes on safety, delaying the enactment of the rule until 2015.

The first major delay for the rule came after DOT sent its final draft to the White House Office of Management and Budget in Nov. 2011. The OMB apparently used it as a paperweight for 19 months. Meanwhile, DOT continued to grant itself multiple extensions.

In June, more than two years after the Feb. 2011 date Congress had set for implementing the rule, DOT withdrew the rule from OMB and pushed the deadline back to Jan. 2015, claiming it needed additional time for more research; even though the agency had previously characterized the research on the rule as “extensive.”

Assuming the DOT’s own estimates of how many lives could be saved by the new rule are accurate, there have been between 237 and 280 preventable deaths in the more than two years since the rule was supposed to be in place. If the DOT waits to act until Jan. 2015 — and assuming it doesn’t drag its heels beyond that point — that’s another 118 to 140 people who will die in preventable backover crashes.

The lawsuit today was filed this morning in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The plaintiffs include our co-workers at Consumers Union, the groups Kids & Cars and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and two parents who lost their children in accidental backover incidents. Public Citizen is representing the plaintiffs.

The petition [PDF] asks the court to declare that DOT has unreasonably delayed the rule, and to direct DOT and its secretary, Anthony Foxx, to issue the rule within 90 days. The petition argues that the length of time DOT is taking is unreasonable under the Administrative Procedure Act, in light of the timetable set forth by Congress, DOT’s failure to show that Congress’s original deadline “cannot be met” as required by the statute and the cost to human life.

“Further delays in issuing the safety standard are unacceptable and unnecessary,” explains Joan Claybrook, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and president emeritus of Public Citizen. “As a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I know that there is enough data to take action today. With each passing week, children throughout America will die or be horribly injured because a proven and effective safety solution is being withheld by DOT under pressure from the auto manufacturers.”

Ami Gadhia, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, adds, “This rule has been delayed for years. More manufacturers are offering this critical safety feature, but we believe it should be standard in all new cars and trucks. Rear visibility technology can save lives, and the time for action is long overdue.”