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April 30, 2007 10:30 AM, EDT

NTSB Chairman Says Tax Incentives May Boost Safety Technology Use

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the April 23 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

WASHINGTON — Mark Rosenker, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, encouraged the use of tax incentives to speed the adoption of safety technologies on cars and trucks during a Senate subcommittee hearing April 19.

“We can encourage the manufacturers and maybe it’s time to look at other measures, which may well be tax credits,” Rosenker told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies.

“We look at that for cars that deal in fuel efficiencies; why don’t we look toward a policy that may encourage us to buy safer automobiles and get that same type of credit?” he said.

“In the long term, the insurance companies will pay out less, our medical bills will be significantly lower and we’ll begin to drop those accident numbers.”

After the hearing, Rosenker told Transport Topics that the same sorts of incentives could be applied to trucks.

“If truck manufacturers believe that they could create all of these things and the reason why people aren’t buying them is because it is costing them too much, maybe if in fact they had some tax credits, either at the state or federal level, or reduction in some way, shape or form — significant reductions of their [insurance] premiums — maybe it would offset the potential increased cost,” he said.

“We’ve seen policies like that move the market behavior, so why not look at it and maybe experiment with it here to see if it works.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the subcommittee, said she thought the federal government could go even further.

“It seems to me that this is one area where a federal mandate will make a difference, because states will just say, ‘Well, the trucks drive across our borders and we can’t impose mandates on them,’” she said.

John Hill, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said a mandate will “certainly put it on everyone’s radar screen much more quickly, but in terms of developing that kind of a rulemaking, I’m going to have to make sure that we have the right kind of research in place before moving forward with it and we’re in the process of that, and I don’t think that’s complete yet.”

Rosenker said NTSB also had been looking at the various types of technologies available for large trucks.

“We’ve seen demonstrations of it; it seems to work fairly well and in fact they even have some technologies that will assist the trailer itself from rolling over,” he said.

“So we’re impressed with what we’ve seen,” Rosenker continued, “and we would encourage, as I said earlier, the manufacturers to begin to put these kinds of equipment in voluntarily now. Recognizing that it does add some costs to it . . . as we continue to put more and more of these vehicles out there, the economies of scale take over and bring down the cost.”