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NHTSA To Bypass Public Comment, Adopt Rules Directly
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to grant itself authority to rush rules into law without the traditional public comment period.

Federal Register
The US Department of Transportation is looking to fast track adoption of rules, bypassing the public comment process. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last week proposed to give itself "direct final rulemaking" authority which would allow the agency to declare a regulatory proposal, which carries the force of law, to be non-controversial and rush it into effect.

"NHTSA is proposing to use the direct final rulemaking process when the action to be taken is not anticipated to generate adverse comment, and therefore, providing notice and opportunity for comment would not be necessary," the agency's proposed rule states. "NHTSA believes this procedural option would expedite the issuance of, and thereby save time and agency resources on, rules that are not controversial."

NHTSA is responsible for a number of major rules, including the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) mandates that direct automobile manufacturers to meet certain mileage requirements. It also plays a major role in the design of vehicles by mandating various "safety" features -- most recently it has published a tentative rule mandating video screens and rear-view cameras be installed in every vehicle. The agency also develops lesser-known rules. In 2000, NHTSA published a "trunk entrapment" rule, requiring every vehicle to have an escape latch to prevent kidnappers from storing people in the trunks of automobiles. The administration's "quiet car" rule would require electric vehicles and hybrids to make loud noises so that they will not run over blind pedestrians.

Such rules cost the automobile industry billions of dollars in compliance costs. Lobbyists for manufacturers closely watch the Federal Register for publication of any item affecting the industry, but proposals affecting only consumers could escape notice under procedures that allow a measure to take effect within sixty days of its publication in the Federal Register as a final rule. The public would have just thirty days to file an adverse comment to slow the process down, otherwise the final rule would become effective.

"NHTSA would not consider frivolous or irrelevant comments to be adverse," the fast-track proposal states. "NHTSA would also not consider a comment recommending additional actions or changes to be adverse, unless the comment also stated why the direct final rulemaking would be ineffective without the additional action or change."

The direct final rulemaking proposal is subject to the standard procedures. Anyone wishing to have his view considered has until May 28, 2013 to submit a comment.

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