I am in the regulatory affairs business, so every year around this time, I put together a list of regulations I think the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will issue in the new year. Each year, I somehow manage to get it wrong, and in 2016, things were no different. Only a handful of my predictions came true.
Yes, rules concerning vehicle-to-vehicle communications, minimum sound requirements for electric vehicles and fuel consumption for heavy trucks were issued as expected. Many other rules, however, addressing important topics like child restraint side-impact testing, bus rollover and event data recorders never made it out.
What happened in 2016 is that the NHTSA administrator called an audible and ran an end run around regular order and pursued a number of nonregulatory measures -- things like the voluntary automatic emergency braking agreement, automated vehicle guidance, distraction guidelines for portable devices, cybersecurity guidelines and a major upgrade to the New Car Assessment Program.
Of these initiatives, only the automatic emergency braking agreement was finalized, and now, as a result of a lawsuit filed by consumer and safety advocates who think the technology should be mandatory, even it may be in jeopardy.
As we prepare for a new era of regulation under Donald Trump, folks are wondering what will become of these initiatives and the backlog of rules. To get a hint at how 2017 will play out, we should take a look at what transpired when George W. Bush took office. It's been almost 16 years since his Chief of Staff Andy Card issued his Jan. 20, 2001, memorandum to heads of agencies advising them not to send any new regulations to the Office of the Federal Register until they could be reviewed by the new administration. Those of us who were around back then know that this memo had a chilling effect on regulatory activity.
Consequently, in 2001, only a few rules were issued by NHTSA. Not-so-critical issues like headlight glare and trunk entrapment were addressed.