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Senate panel to hold Dec. 3 hearing on NHTSA nominee

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

The Senate Commerce Committee said it will hold a hearing Dec. 3 to consider the nomination of a former NASA scientist and member of the National Transportation Safety Board to become the nation’s top auto safety regulator.

The hearing — just two weeks after the White House nominated Mark Rosekind to run the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — suggests the nomination may be on a fast track. NHTSA has come under harsh criticism from Congress and safety advocates.

Rosekind, a former NASA scientist and expert on human fatigue, joined the NTSB in 2010. He has been the on-scene board member for many significant crashes, including an April incident that killed 10 when a FedEx truck slammed into a bus carrying high school students in Northern California.

A committee spokeswoman confirmed Rosekind’s nomination will be considered along with other unspecified nominees.

It’s not clear if the Senate will confirm Rosekind before Republicans take control in January. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, who will become the next Commerce Committee chair, criticized the White House for waiting so long to name a new administrator. “The troubling string of recalls this year should be a wake-up call. I believe we can do a better job of addressing safety issues as they arise and holding automakers, their suppliers, and NHTSA accountable to their shared mission of ensuring safety on America’s roadways,” Thune said last week.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, told The Detroit News she thinks the Senate can confirm a new NHTSA chief this year, while Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said it is not likely that Congress will have time to act this year.

Automakers have recalled nearly 60 million cars and trucks this year, shattering the all-time record set in 2004 of 30.4 million. Members of Congress have questioned whether the agency has the personnel, resources and expertise necessary to address safety problems, especially as cars get more complex and have more electronics.