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NHTSA

Not Hannigan Again!

From The Washington Times
http://www.washtimes.com/

WASHINGTON - A former commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, who is credited with helping reduce traffic deaths through active enforcement of seat belt laws, is being touted to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Maurice J. Hannigan, 60, who joined the CHP as a patrol officer in 1964 and retired in 1995 after seven years as commissioner, is being pushed by the National Safety Council, a group with extensive civic and corporate ties.

Chuck Hurley, a senior spokesman for the safety group, confirmed that it is backing Hannigan. The former CHP head now serves as a consultant to the safety council in efforts to get states to pass stronger seat belt laws.

The traffic safety agency is small but it has a mandate to set vehicle standards and promote highway safety. It has a mixed record. Many of its safety standards are decades old and have not kept up with technological change.

A strong advocate of air bags, the agency promulgated the first performance standards for the safety devices. But while air bags are estimated to have saved more than 6,300 lives since 1990, they also have led to the unintended deaths of nearly 100 children.

The auto industry faulted federal safety standards -- since amended -- for requiring air bags that were too powerful.

The agency's priorities for the next two years include improving tire safety and revamping its system for detecting potential vehicle defects, reforms ordered by Congress in the wake of the Firestone tire case. It is also spearheading a national campaign to increase seat belt use, an issue on which Hannigan remains active.

"I'm flattered to have some friends in transportation, but I'm not campaigning for that job," Hannigan said. "If somebody wants you for this job, they'll let you know."

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan declined to comment on prospective nominees to head the traffic safety agency.

Government and industry sources said that other candidates mentioned for the position include Dr. Jeffrey Augenstein, a Miami physician and expert on auto injuries; Terrance W. Gainer, Washington's assistant police chief; and John D. Graham, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and an expert on the costs and benefits of vehicle safety regulations.

Graham has been widely viewed as the leading candidate to head the agency, but sources said he is now being considered for a senior position in the White House Office of Management and Budget. Graham turned down a request for an interview.

Hannigan was a Republican appointee in California. He was promoted to CHP commissioner by Gov. George Deukmejian and re-appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson.

During his tenure, Hannigan emphasized enforcement of seat belt and drunken driving laws that have been considered models for the rest of the country. California's seat belt law allows police to stop and ticket motorists for not using their belts, while many states still do not allow police to stop a vehicle solely for a seat belt violation. California was also one of the first states to set a 0,08% blood-alcohol level as the standard for determining when a driver is considered drunk.

The seat belt use rate in California is not 90%, while the rate country-wise is 71%. Deaths in motor vehicle crashes in California have gone down, from about 5.000 a year in the mid-1980s to about 3,400 now, a rate of decline almost twice as steep as for the country as a whole.

end

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