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DOT/car maker pact: all good now, or just an uneasy alliance?

The auto-manufacturing industry has long shown that it chafes under a regulatory regime that primarily focuses upon rule making and punitive actions.

And, on the flip side, federal regulators have equally shown that they are sometimes not up to the task of keeping abreast of rapid changes occurring in the automotive industry and effectively policing important matters that fundamentally affect public safety.

Regular readers of our personal injury blog note well how the pendulum has long swung when it comes to government/car maker relations. Quite often, a sudden safety glitch of massive proportions -- read an ignition switch failure, sudden acceleration or exploding air bags -- grabs the public's interest and begins to dominate media discussions. In many instances, regulators from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are seen to be tardy in their response to such perceived safety crises.

And that has hurt both entities. Unquestionably, public trust in automakers has eroded materially in recent years. And, in attendant fashion, increasing numbers of people are beginning to see federal safety agencies as being lax and ineffectual in their oversight of automakers.

A response to that eroded trust and perceived laxity was announced last week in Detroit by DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, who informed reporters of an agreed-to safety pact between the federal government and global automakers. The agreement, described as "a peace treaty of sorts" in a U.S. News & World Report article, will primarily emphasize cooperation between regulators and industry principals going forward rather than formalized rulemaking and punitive sanctions for safety lapses.

As noted in that article, the agreement stresses a voluntary sharing of information and more cooperation between regulators and car makers. The pact downplays excessive rule making, given its propensity to "take years to get through the government bureaucracy and move too slowly to keep up with technology."

Will the new relationship bear quality fruit in the near future?

Only time will tell, of course.

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