Trucks at Work
NHTSA’s new guy

NHTSA’s new guy

"Chuck has a deep passion to save lives, prevent injuries and stop the human suffering associated with traffic crashes." --Janet Froetscher, president & CEO of the National Safety Council, on the nomination of Charles “Chuck” Hurley to head up the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

There are a lot of different opinions out there concerning the selection of Charles “Chuck” Hurley by President Obama to head up the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) since 2005 and a longtime board member of that organization, Hurley also previously held senior leadership positions with the National Safety Council (NSC) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety over the last thirty years – working extensively with law enforcement on air bag and seat belt issues, teen driving, and child passenger safety.


It also seems very clear that Hurley (pictured at right) – much like Ray LaHood, U.S. Transportation Secretary – received this particular nomination due to past work with then-Senator Obama at the state level. In Hurley’s case, he worked with Obama in 2003 to strengthen Illinois' seat belt, teen driving, child passenger safety, and racial profiling laws.

A former naval intelligence officer, Hurley is getting a lot of praise from many groups closely tied to highway safety issues – including the NSC and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

“President Obama and Transportation Secretary LaHood have made a terrific choice in selecting Chuck Hurley to lead NHTSA,” said Janet Froetscher, the NSC’s president & CEO.

“During his 20 years with the NSC, Chuck was involved in many significant national highway safety initiatives, including increasing seat belt use, improving child passenger safety and Graduated Driver Licensing for teens and reducing impaired driving,” she added. “He is a major force in highway safety and we are excited that such a passionate, research-based leader will be heading our nation's highway safety agency.”

Vernon F. Betkey, Jr., GSHA’s chairman, heaped similar amounts of praise on Hurley’s shoulders. “Chuck is a passionate safety advocate whose career has been dedicated to reducing motor vehicle deaths and injuries on the highways,” Betkey said. “By nominating Chuck, President Obama has demonstrated his administration's strong commitment to rid our nation of the tragic 40,000 deaths each year on our roadways. I urge the Senate to quickly confirm Chuck's nomination.”

Yet it’s not all peaches and cream – and the opposition to Hurley’s nomination comes from some surprising quarters.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Hurley's nomination is already encountering some opposition from environmental groups. In the early 1990s, Hurley – then an official with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – supported the auto industry's arguments against raising automobile fuel economy standards, contending that such a move would result in smaller and more dangerous cars.

"It would be awkward to have an administrator of NHTSA who's spent much of his career attacking fuel economy standards that NHTSA administers," Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign -- a Washington-based group that advocates higher fuel-economy standards -- told the WSJ.

But at other times, Hurley has disagreed with automakers and, by extension, safety system advocates as well.

In 1994, for example, he promoted a study conducted by the insurance institute that suggested automakers were exaggerating the safety benefits of antilock brakes, the WSJ reported, adding that the study compared accident and insurance loss data for cars equipped with antilock brake systems to the same models with standard brakes and found that claim frequency and the average insurance payments were roughly the same.

One thing is for certain in all of this: How these various stands will impact trucking during Hurley’s tenure at NHTSA – should he be confirmed, of course – is going to be very interesting, to say the very least.