Like all Americans, readers are well aware that the U.S. government was shut down from December 22, 2018, until January 25, 2019, prompting the suspension of activities for all agencies deemed nonessential and furloughing roughly 800,000 federal employees. The CPS work of some readers may have been directly or indirectly impacted by this situation. From a macro level, here is what SRN has learned about some key aspects of CPS with respect to this shutdown and shutdowns in general.
Many NHTSA employees are among those who are furloughed during a shutdown. CPSTs should be aware that NHTSA employees, while furloughed, are not permitted to communicate with the public as usual, and all communication must be handled through the NHTSA office of public affairs. Product complaints can still be reported to the agency, but agency follow-up cannot occur until the shutdown is over; new recalls cannot be issued. The agency responded to an SRN inquiry with the following statement:
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is responsible for reducing deaths, injuries, and economic losses resulting from motor vehicle crashes. During a government shutdown, some key agency functions will be discontinued until funding is restored. Functions funded by the Highway Trust Fund will continue while those funded by annual appropriations will be suspended, including safety defect investigations, field crash investigations, review of consumer complaints, and notification of new vehicle and equipment recalls. NHTSA may recall furloughed employees if NHTSA becomes aware of information concerning suspended functions that involve imminent threats to the safety of human life or protection of property.”
Updates to FMVSS 213
The recent shutdown curtailed NHTSA action regarding updates to FMVSS 213. In particular, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for updates to the required frontal-crash test and the final rule for adding side-impact testing requirements have long been anticipated. In mid-December 2018, a Safe Kids webinar on side-impact testing gave February 2019 and September 2019 as the targeted dates for the NPRM and final rule, respectively. Due to the lengthy shutdown, these target dates have been shifted back by at least a month.
CPST Curriculum Update
CPSTs and CPST-Is are eagerly awaiting the latest revision of the standardized curriculum. The word from NHTSA is that this project is entering its final stages. However, the shutdown of over a month will cause a delay of at least that long in its release. The earliest opportunity for CPST-Is to learn more about the updates to the curriculum will be at an orientation session on March 30th in Louisville, Kentucky, during the Lifesavers Conference. (Preregistration, for instructors only, is required.) Roll-out activities, such as pilot courses and materials distribution, are likely to occur in the fall. Safe Kids, the National CPS Board, and/or NHTSA will issue updates as events unfold, so CPSTs should make sure that their profile information is current and accurate so they successfully receive this news.
This agency is also furloughed during a shutdown, so crashes that occur during such times that normally would be investigated are not likely to benefit from its in-depth review. In 2013, NTSB investigators were able to collect perishable evidence from a plane crash site during a shutdown, but a full investigation was delayed. This January, when seven people (five of whom were children) died in a multivehicle crash in Florida, the NTSB was not able to assist local authorities with their investigation because of the shutdown. Since the children who died were all ejected from a full-size church van during the crash, such an investigation might have provided insights on safety issues involving these vehicles and helpful recommendations for others who transport children this way.