The closing years of the Obama administration saw a whirlwind of regulatory activity from NHTSA, including multiple consent orders, record penalties, and soaring recall numbers. The more aggressive enforcement posture, hailed as the “New Normal,” has largely remained in place as the Trump administration has been slow to bring in new political leadership to the agency. Although the Trump administration’s regulatory philosophy is still unclear, the future direction of the agency is beginning to come into focus as the new year gets underway. NHTSA is significantly boosting its investigative staff and implementing structural changes in its enforcement office, changes that are almost certain to lead to more defect investigations. The agency also recently revised its autonomous vehicle policy, setting forth twelve “Priority Safety Design Elements” for automated vehicles. This year, the industry expects to see passage of autonomous vehicle legislation, which has bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House. Passage of such legislation will inevitably trigger a flurry of activity at the agency as it races to meet congressionally mandated rulemaking deadlines. Thus, we expect 2018 to be another busy year for NHTSA and the industry.
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