In Williamson v. Mazda, SCOTUS Has Chance to Right Preemption Wrongs

by Bill Funk | November 01, 2010

Cross-posted from ACSblog.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on November 3 in a potentially important preemption case, Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America. In Williamson, a child was fatally injured in a collision when she was sitting in the center rear seat of a Mazda van, secured by a lap belt. The two other passengers in the vehicle, both wearing lap-shoulder belts, survived with minor injuries. The young Williamson, however, suffered severe abdominal injuries and internal bleeding because her body jackknifed around the lap belt. The Williamsons sued Mazda asserting that the van was defectively designed by providing only a lap belt in the center rear seat. When the van was built, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's Federal Motor Vehicle Standard (FMVSS) 208 only required lap belts in the center seat, even while it required lap-shoulder belts in all other seats. Mazda moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that the common law tort claim was preempted by the federal standard. The California trial court granted the motion and the appellate court affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider that decision.

This is not the first time that the Supreme Court has considered the relation between FMVSS 208 and state tort law. In Geier v. American Honda Motor Co. (2000), the Court held that FMVSS 208 at the time of that case preempted a state tort law claim that the failure to ...

Eye on OIRA: Sunstein Brings Behavioral Economics to NHTSA Tire Fuel Efficiency Program

by James Goodwin | April 21, 2010
On March 19, OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein issued the office's first Review Letter of the Obama Administration, telling the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to redo their studies on how to design the labels for the agency’s new “Tire Fuel Efficiency Consumer Information Program.” (For background on Review Letters and the other types of OIRA letters, see here.) Those new studies will delay implementation of the tire efficiency regulation by at least half a year, and likely longer. Under ...

Toyota: Should Someone Go to Jail?

by Rena Steinzor | March 01, 2010
The congressional hearings so far on “sudden unintended acceleration” (SUA) in Toyota cars should have made two truths obvious to Washington policymakers. First, the strategy of counting on major manufacturers to voluntarily ensure that their consumer products are safe is unworkable in a competitive market, and second, safety agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) need to walk softly but carry a very large stick. Gone are the days when we could reasonably expect government technical experts to ...

Waxman and Stupak Release Documents on Eve of Toyota / NHTSA Hearing

by Ben Somberg | February 22, 2010
Representatives Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak have released a batch of documents this afternoon on the day before their committee hearing on the Toyota debacle. Their focus is largely on the issue of the possible role of electronic failures as a cause of sudden unintended acceleration cases. They criticized Toyota's response to the reports of electronic problems, and in their letter to transportaiton secretary Ray LaHood, say: Our preliminary review of the documents and the information learned from the meetings with NHTSA officials raises two ...

The Toyota Fiasco: Where Were the Regulators?

by Rena Steinzor | February 22, 2010
Saturday’s Washington Post crystallized a trend of reporting in recent days showing that neither misaligned floor mats nor defective pedals are to blame for all acceleration problems in Toyota cars, at least not in the 2005 model Camry. The car, which has neither piece of offending equipment, does have electronic acceleration controls that are beginning to emerge as a potential cause of the problem. If those computerized systems are at the heart of even a small universe of Toyota’s problems, ...

Congress Says Ask, but Toyota and Fellow Automakers Say Don't Tell: The Story of NHTSA and Industry Secrecy

by Shana Campbell Jones | February 22, 2010
Ten years ago, after NHTSA received reports of numerous deaths and injuries linked to Firestone tires and Ford Explorers, Congress passed the TREAD Act, bolstering the authority of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to identify possible defects in vehicles and tires by collecting information (“early warning data”) from auto and tire manufacturers. The law requires disclosure of data about incidents involving deaths or injuries, injury and property damage claims (including lawsuits), consumer complaints, warranty claims, field reports (problems ...

The Toyota Debacle and NHTSA's Role: What Congress Must Investigate

by Ben Somberg | February 09, 2010
In a letter today, CPR President Rena Steinzor and board member Sidney Shapiro recommend to Congress questions it should investigate to get to the bottom of the Toyota accelerator/recall matter that's all over the news. The letter focuses in particular on the role of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and examines the agency's shortcomings in achieving its mission to protect public safety. To be clear, the Toyota case is about much more than engineering failure. It is a ...

Where is NHTSA? Toyota Recall and the Missing Regulator

by Sidney Shapiro | January 28, 2010
When my children were growing up, they loved the “Where’s Waldo” book series. Each page had an illustrated picture chock full of people and objects; hidden somewhere among the mass of detail was a small picture of a cartoon character named Waldo. When the Toyota Motor Corporation announced this week that it was stopping the production and sales of several of its car models because of a dangerous problem with unintended acceleration, we had a “Where’s Waldo” scenario. The National ...

NHTSA's First Year Under Obama: Stuck in Neutral

by James Goodwin | January 25, 2010
This post is the fifth in a series on the new CPR report Obama’s Regulators: A First-Year Report Card. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) progress on its statutory mission of reducing traffic fatalities came to a screeching halt in recent years, making it imperative that the Obama Administration work quickly to get this vital protector agency back into gear. Unfortunately, NHTSA coasted through part of the year, when it should have its foot on the gas. While it ...

EPA and NHTSA Lowball Estimates of Carbon Costs in Proposed Tailpipe Emissions Standard

by Frank Ackerman | December 04, 2009
Once upon a time, EPA and other agencies labored under the yoke of a cruel regime that was contemptuous of the “reality-based community,” but intimately aware of the needs and desires of the energy industry. Climate policy didn’t really happen in those days. Then the world changed. In the first year of the new regime, EPA and NHTSA proposed a standard for tailpipe emissions, including an estimate of the “social cost of carbon,” or the value of the incremental damages ...

Defective: Toyota Cars and Automobile Regulation

by Sidney Shapiro | November 12, 2009
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently chastised the Toyota Motor Company for claiming that no defect existed in its cars, even while recalling 3.8 million of them. Toyota instituted the recall one month after a Lexus sedan suddenly accelerated out of control killing four people near San Diego. When Toyota blamed the problem on improperly installed floor mats, NHTSA said it expected the company to provide a “suitable vehicle solution.” The company then said that it was working on “vehicle-based remedies” ...

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