Preventing Auto Accidents with an Airline Safety Model

The U.S. Department of Transportation includes 12 agencies dedicated to various transportation concerns. Among those agencies are the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Secretary of the USDOT, Anthony Foxx, is pushing the NHTSA to use FAA programs and culture as a model for the future. The NHTSA has been beset with controversy after two years of record highs in vehicle recalls and high profile auto defect problems. Mr. Foxx has referred to the new direction as a “proactive safety culture.”

One of the ways in which the auto industry could more closely mirror the airline industry is in how automakers share information. The FAA currently pushes airlines to share safety data and asks them to identify internal weaknesses in making the industry safer. The FAA also relies on pilots and other aviation employees to self-report errors. In the auto industry, defects are frequently discovered by reviewing consumer complaints. Action is taken only after a number of accidents accumulate.

A number of automakers recently entered into an agreement with the NHTSA and the USDOT to explore new avenues for sharing safety data. The FAA deputy associate administrator for aviation safety likened the deal to the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing Program, as well as the Safety Management System used by the FAA. The agreement sparked worry in some corners that the NHTSA was moving toward allowing automakers to regulate themselves when it comes to safety. The concern is that what worked in the aviation industry is not what will work among auto companies.

Sources: Detroit Free Press, “FAA and NHTSA using similar regulatory playbooks,” by Brent Snavely, 13 February 2016

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